Trenton-Mercer Airport: Planning for the Future
By Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes
Air travel was a folly in 1907 when the first plane touched down at Alfred Reeder’s farm field, just off Bear Tavern Road in Ewing Township. The airfield was acquired by Mercer County just 22 years after that chance landing, and what began as a landing strip in a farm field is now the third busiest airport in New Jersey, hosting more than a half million passengers each year and averaging about 80,000 take-offs and landings each year.
From its contributions to early aviation, to its preeminent role in the production of the World War II Avenger Torpedo Bomber, and today home to a healthy mix of commercial, corporate and private air service, Trenton-Mercer Airport’s power as an economic engine is unparalleled, contributing thousands of jobs and more than $100 million a year to the local economy.
I’m proud of Trenton-Mercer Airport’s illustrious past and energized by its promising future as a premier travel hub, providing safe and convenient transportation options, and offering the right venue for smart growth and development by the public and private sectors.
And I’m excited about what’s happening at Trenton-Mercer Airport (TTN) today, as we take the appropriate steps to realize that promise. The airport is in the process of updating its Master Plan, which will provide the framework needed to guide possible future airport development. The goal is to satisfy aviation demand in a cost-effective manner, while considering potential environmental and socioeconomic issues.
The Master Plan is being prepared by Urban Engineers, which was selected through a qualifications-based process as the general consultant for the airport, and McFarland Johnson, a national aviation consulting firm specializing in airport planning studies at smaller commercial service airports. Ninety percent of the project is funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), through various aviation user fees, with the remaining 10 percent coming from Mercer County.
In addition to professional evaluation, the Master Plan is being developed with public involvement. Two public meetings have been held. The first, in September 2016, presented information on existing conditions, forecast and airport facility needs. The second meeting, in May 2017, contained the same information as the first meeting, but also presented the recommended development plan.
A third Airport Master Plan presentation is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 19, as part of a regularly scheduled Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting. After a presentation by our consultants, the public will have an opportunity to ask questions about all airport-related projections and goals.
It’s important to note that no specific projects are approved as a result of the Master Plan process; the public meetings reflect the plan itself, and not the physical projects.
The FAA does not formally approve the Master Plan because it is considered a local policy or guidance document. They have, however, already approved the projected growth of airport services as outlined in the Master Plan, and the airport is awaiting the FAA’s formal approval of the airport layout plan (ALP) for airspace and design standards. Approval of the ALP is not a green light to proceed with a recommended construction project. It simply means that the FAA has no safety concerns related to the proposed Airport Master Plan and that it conforms to FAA standards. Additional studies will be needed before a projected depicted on the Master Plan is implemented.
I want to point out that no physical expansion of the airport is planned. There are no proposals to lengthen either of the two runways at TTN, and while modifications to the taxiway system are proposed in order to enhance safety and meet FAA design standards, they would not increase the airport’s capacity.
We are, however, looking to design and build a new passenger terminal that would meet our current and future needs. When I announced this intention more than two years ago, I said I wanted to ensure that our airport could take advantage of future opportunities and the economic impact that could result. I believe more than ever that the return on investment would be very positive, but we need to act now.
We’ve made smart investments to upgrade the airport during the past several years; for example, the $7 million investment for terminal improvements and parking lots we made in 2013 was quickly recovered through airport revenue, without a penny coming from taxpayers. But these were temporary solutions. Our existing passenger terminal is 50 years old and becoming increasingly ill-equipped to accommodate our growing customer base. The latest industry standards recommend a facility at least three times the size of our existing terminal based on current use. By comparison, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport had about 16 percent fewer enplanements than TTN in 2016, yet its 11-year-old terminal is five times larger.
A new passenger terminal would be one of the most significant infrastructure improvements by the County in many years. And it would be closely linked to our continuing success in expanding travel and tourism in Mercer County.
But before TTN can move ahead with plans for a new terminal, or any new airport development, an environmental review process must take place under the guidelines and regulations of the National Environmental Policy Act. This would be in the form of an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement, which would look at an airport project’s effect on noise, air quality and other factors, and determine whether mitigation is required.
The technical analysis would be the same for either type of review, and either would provide additional opportunities for public comment. Which type of review is undertaken will be determined by the FAA, whose final approval is required.
For more information about the Airport Master Plan process and what the plan contains, please visit the airport section of Mercer County’s website at www.mercercounty.org.
Alfred Reeder’s farm is gone, but the airport it ultimately spawned is thriving as it helps to fuel the regional economy and serve travelers throughout the area who recognize Trenton-Mercer Airport as a convenient and economical means of travel. Our challenge is to chart a smooth course for TTN for the foreseeable future, and Mercer County is taking the appropriate steps to make that happen.