By Jack Elliott
There was a healthy dose of heartening news for attendees of this year’s New Jersey Aviation Conference, held May 9 at Newark Liberty International Airport. The theme of the conference was “Revitalizing New Jersey Aviation.” The good news was that the erosion of the state’s system of airports has stopped and that looking into the future, the outlook is not only for preserving the airports that still exist, but also for improving them.
Keynote speaker Rick Gimello, director, Intermodal Transportation, New Jersey Department of Transportation, told attendees that in the 1950s, New Jersey had 82 airports.
“Today, that number is down to 48,” he said.
The good news is that under current airport preservation policies that number is not expected to go any lower.
“We’re determined that over the next five years we will have preserved a hundred percent of those airports,” Gimello said. “We believe that 32 of those are core airports. We’re determined that over the next five years, we’ll have preserved every one of those core airports.”
Credit for the preservation belongs in large measure to New Jersey Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, who sponsored a bill that empowers the state to buy airport development rights. Under this law, the airport owner is paid for those rights, which, once purchased by the state require that the property remain an airport in perpetuity.
Bill Leavens, AOPA area representative and former president of the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Coalition, sponsor of the conference, filled in for ailing Bob Checchio, current president. He presented a rundown of airports where development rights have been purchased and those where the process is underway.
Development rights at two airports, Lincoln Park and Central Jersey Regional, have already been purchased. Offers for purchase of development rights have been made to Sussex, Blairstown, Alexandria, Cross Keys and Spitfire airports. An appraisal done at Trenton-Robbinsville Airport is currently being studied by the State Division of Aeronautics, which may result in an offer to purchase development rights there.
According to Tom Thatcher, director of the Division of Aeronautics, who attended the conference but was not a speaker this year, New Jersey is the only state with a program to actively pursue the preservation of privately-owned, public use airports. No other state offers development rights as an option in preserving such airports. New Jersey is the national leader.
In addition to the purchase of development rights, the state is also buying some airports outright. Aeroflex-Andover, Greenwood Lake and South Jersey Regional are now owned by the state. Municipalities have purchased two other airports. Trinca, a turf strip, was purchased by Green Township, and Lakewood was purchased by the city.
Leavens also pointed out that Atlantic City’s close-in protection of Bader Field under the federal grants provision runs out in September 2006.
“But the people in the area around the city-owned airport would rather see that facility remain than to see high rises going up on that property, which is a strong possibility if the airport goes,” he said. “They prefer to see the neighborhood maintain its present character.”
Gimello pointed out that airports have traditionally gotten $7 million annually from the transportation trust fund, and there’s virtually no opposition to applying those funds to the preservation of airports.
“The last couple of administrators were very proactive,” he said. “I do not anticipate that will change. While we’re hoping to get a hundred percent of the core airports under contract for the sale of development rights, over the next 10 years we’re going to be looking not only at preservation, but also at the revitalization of those core airports.”
An update on NorthSTAR
Terry Hoben, the air medical coordinator of NorthSTAR, New Jersey’s EMS helicopter response program and the critical care transport team at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, presented a history of the unit and its lifesaving mission. He discussed the recent selection of Somerset Airport in Bedminster as the new base for NorthSTAR, which operates a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter.
The helicopter had been based at the University Hospital in Newark, but it was determined that response time could be cut considerably if the helicopter were relocated. The golden hour, the time between a serious injury and treatment at a trauma center, can often mean the difference between life and death.
Hoben pointed out that accidents on Routes 76 and 287, as well as the Route 80 corridor, have risen substantially in the past few years. The areas where those accidents occur are much more accessible from Somerset Airport then from Newark.
Several other airports in the area were considered for the relocation, but the state police determined that Somerset Airport was the most desirable.
The news from the state police medevac unit wasn’t all good, however. It was anticipated that there would be no opposition to the relocation of the unit.
“We were wrong,” Hoben said. There has been highly organized opposition from residents and from some members of the Bedminster Township Committee.
The unit is currently operating out of a trailer under a temporary permit that was recently extended for nine months until next February, which would be a year after operations was transferred to Somerset Airport. There are plans to build a permanent facility, but there will apparently be many hurdles to overcome before that becomes a reality.
In addition to presenting an in-depth update of New Jersey Aviation, there were other conference speakers who addressed revolutionary changes in navigation systems and in the type of aircraft which will be using our air space in the years ahead.
GPS and WAAS
Larry Oliver, a contractor to the FAA and an extremely avid supporter of Global Positioning System and Wide Area Augmentation System, discussed how, in the years ahead, VHF Omnirange navigation and instrument landing system approaches will become obsolete.
“I regard GPS as the greatest change in aviation since the jet engine,” Oliver said. “Under the old system, the further away from the nav station, the less accurate it is. If you’re one degree off, in 60 miles you’re one mile off course. With the satellite-based system, it doesn’t matter how far away you are from your point of departure of your destination, your accuracy remains the same. And with GPS you can fly directly to your destination.”
There has been some discussion about the fact that the military could turn off GPS at will.
“Well, it’s not going to happen,” Oliver said. “A presidential directive has established that GPS will be a free service provided worldwide and the United States will become an advocate for the international use and standards associated with the Global Positioning System.
“The Europeans are developing Galileo and we’re working closely with them to insure that there is commonality and freedom of interference between frequencies. Right now we have 24 satellites in six orbits.”
There are 3,500 non-precision GPS approaches that you can fly today in the United States.
“The accuracy of the system is good enough to develop non-precision approaches,” he said. “When you consider the advantages of these approaches, if you’re an airport owner or state agency, with a GPS you no longer have to worry about real estate off the airport to put up any kind of transmitter, ADF or outer marker. There’s no equipment associated with a GPS approach that has to be on the airport itself. The signal in space is already there.”
Oliver explained that WAAS uses a system of ground-based references.
“Right now we have about 25 in the United States and we’re in the process of putting some additional stations in Canada and Mexico,” he said. “With the kind of accuracy we have with WAAS, we can use it to provide a glideslope for your GPS approach. This means that with no equipment at the airport, you can now fly an approach with vertical guidance down to minimums of about 250 feet.”
Oliver said he doesn’t know of any new airports under construction in the U.S., but that there are definitely more aircraft coming on line.
“What that means is that we have to use the airspace more efficiently,” he said. “To have the accuracy we need to do that, we’re going to have to rely on GPS and WAAS. With WAAS we’re looking at maintaining separation en route of two miles. However, in the terminal area we’re looking at one mile and on approach, 0.03. It would enable us to put more activity into a confined space.”
He said that coming on line right now are required navigation performance standard instrument departures and standard terminal arrival routes.
“Also, we’ll have the capability of allowing seven-degree glideslope for helo operations,” he said. “The system can also allow curved approaches with the glideslope associated with them. We don’t have any of these yet, but we’re working on them. We’re working on something called CDFA, a continuous descent to a final approach. GPS will also make it possible to cut down on space between parallel approaches.”
He said these systems will also address one of the FAA’s major concerns, controlled flight into terrain.
“A lot of the ADFs (automatic direction finders) and VORs are going away. It will be slow and not all of them will go. About 450 VORs will remain in service as a backup system. The system will remain for the foreseeable future. The first decommissioning of a VOR will probably not be for another seven years.”
He said that right now there are no plans to decommission any ILS approaches.
“We’re working on another system called LAS (local area augmentation),” he said. “The idea is to eventually have CAT 2 and 3 ILS capability. That’s five to seven years off.”
The VLJ market
The second major change in general aviation is the new class of aircraft that boasts a level of performance and economy unknown in the industry until now. Jack Olcott, former president of the NBAA and current president of the New Jersey Aviation Association, is also one of the leading authorities on the very light jet. He brought conference attendees up to date on this new advance in GA capabilities and the vital role it’s designed to play.
Olcott said that 35 hubs represent about 70 percent of all airline passenger enplanements.
“The hub and spoke system we have with airlines is insufficient for short-range trips,” he said. “On a typical flight of 500 miles, your departure point to destination ground speed is less than 90 miles per hour. That’s why in some cases people are driving shorter distances. Our air transportation system has limitations. In order to go 300 miles, you’re probably better off driving than flying. Something is wrong.”
Olcott said that a recent FAA-NASA study failed to address the impact of congestion on the mobility of Americans, which could cost consumers up to $20 billion a year by 2025.
“Our system has reached its limit,” he said. “A new approach is required. We’ve got to do something different. The future system will be on-demand air travel. The new system will embrace the very light jets.”
Olcott said that over 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 20 miles of a GA airport with a 3,000-foot runway, but only 40 percent of the population lives within a hundred miles of a hub airport.
“Typical light twins like the Baron I fly cost about a million dollars,” he said. “The Eclipse VLJ will not cost much more.”
He said the VLJs will be able to operate for about a dollar a mile.
“I can’t operate my Baron for a dollar a mile,” he said. “That will change the whole face of what we know as general aviation. They’ll bring a level of sophistication to general aviation that is truly exciting. It will bring about a transformation in the way we travel commercially. It will not move people out of the airlines. It will bring people who had previously driven to shorter destinations into aviation. It will create its own marketplace, its own customers.”
Olcott asked the audience to consider the advantages of these machines, including flying above the weather and advanced avionics.
“They’ll be easier to fly than the light twins you might be flying now,” he said.
But he said there will be problems.
“The key challenges will be operating these airplanes professionally within the national air and space system and obtaining adequate insurance,” he said. “The biggest challenge of all is maintaining safe operations. If that is achieved, everything else will fall into line. Very light jets will play a major role in our nation’s next generation air transportation system. We must maintain a key focus on in-depth training so the VLJs are successful.”
Olcott emphasized two vital considerations: the importance of safe operations when the VLJs go into service and the harm that could be done to all general aviation by accidents, and concerns about noise.
“My Baron makes more noise than a Challenger,” he said.
Olcott said that this nation’s growing need for air transportation and advances in technology will define a whole new era in general aviation.
“We may be reaching that phase when we no longer define general aviation by what it isn’t,” he said. To the people who ask, ‘What is general aviation?’ we’ve always said, ‘Well it’s not the airlines’ and, ‘It’s not the military.’ General aviation is everything else. Maybe it’s about time to call general aviation what it is: the best form of personal transportation, bar none.”