The following article appeared in the May 1976 edition of The Princeton Recollector a monthly journal of local history, published by the Princeton History Project.
Newhouse Designed Early Airplanes
History of Princeton Airport
Prior to 1920 the Newhouse family lived in Rocky Hill where the elder
Newhouse experimented with airplanes. In need of a place to launch,
PRINCETON AIRPORT - 1985
On March 29, 1985, Princeton Aero Corp, whose principals are members of the Nierenberg family, Naomi, Dick, and their son, Ken, purchased the airport. The Nierenbergs had operated a full service fixed base operation at Kupper Airport for eighteen years when they were in search of a new home facing the expiration of their lease.
Immediately the Nierenbergs brought all the services to the dormant airport which had been for sale for four years. The area pilots responded enthusiastically to the return of airport services. The new management immediately started to improve the facility with an improved lighting system. In 1987 a set of sixteen T-hangars was constructed and filled upon completion.
The other services were well received. The FAA certified flight school grew rapidly; a variety of airplanes were available for rent; the maintenance shop expanded; the tie-down area increased; and Princeton Airport was back to a full service operation.
But this was the ?80s, and Central Jersey was thriving. The Route 1 Corridor saw one corporation after another base their home offices in the area, proudly touting the Princeton zip code, 08540. Land values increased rapidly and municipal services were stressed. Highways became congested, and housing starts soared. Existing housing values skyrocketed. People were in search of their piece of suburbia with peace and quiet. Some purchased existing homes and others built new homes, many near the airport.
As the airport activity increased, so did conflicts with the neighbors in the immediate proximity of the airport. No matter how the management tried to appease these homeowners and the governing officials, nothing worked. Any improvements to the airport were met by the town fathers with great opposition, even when the proposal was for safety improvements.
Between the harassment by some of the neighbors and the obstacles put forth by township officials, enormous time and money were wasted to save the viability of the airport. Eventually the township committee passed ordinances which forced the airport into litigation. These ordinances infringed upon the jurisdiction of the FAA and the New Jersey Division of Aeronautics. However, it was up to Princeton Aero to go to court, as all negotiations fell apart. Nary a week passed that banner headlines were printed in the local newspapers, inciting the residents. The ugly battle continued for several years until the airport won in Superior Court by summary judgment in 1993. Peace did not come easily as the township immediately filed an appeal.
Concurrent with the conflicts, the Princeton Airport was designated a "reliever airport", which enabled it to apply for FAA Airport Improvement Program funding for safety improvements. This was interpreted by the residents that Princeton Airport would become a jetport. The overzealous opponents were extremely adept and sophisticated, and were able to politicize the issue involving senators and congressmen.
The day that the Township Committee passed the two ordinances against the airport, a base customer donated a check for $1000 to the airport to start the Legal Defense Fund. This person learned to fly under the current owners, purchased an airplane from them, and was in the process of building one when the township began its assault. This donation and hundreds of other donations, ranging from $5 to thousands, were put into the fund which ultimately totaled over $60,000. Pilots from all over the country heard the plight of Princeton and recognized this arbitrary action could happen to any airport. Although the amount collected was only a fraction of the monies needed for the legal battle, it was very welcome.
Undaunted by the local opposition, the first project for which the airport received approval and used federal funds, was the taxiway reconstruction. Future projects must be preceded by a comprehensive Master Plan study by professional planners. The Master Plan study looks to the needs of the aviation community for the next twenty years and the impact it may cause. Throughout the study process, the FAA requires the public to have a voice, both by having representatives on the Technical Advisory Committee and through public hearings. The hearings about Princeton Airport were extremely contentious and hope for a resolution appeared to be remote.
From 1993 to May, 1996, Airport Manager, Ken Nierenberg, and attorney, Tom Hall, began quiet negotiations to resolve the differences. All parties assured each other that the efforts would be confidential and no one would speak to the press until all sides agreed. A compromise was finally worked out, and an agreement allowed the airport to continue with its build-out plan. In return the township would drop its appeal. Both sides compromised significantly, and an agreement was signed on May, 1996.
In 1995 two more sets of four T-hangars were added, and in 1996, a large hangar was erected to house two turbo-props. 1996 also welcomed some sorely needed paving and overlay of taxiways and parking areas, funded primarily by the New Jersey Division of Aeronautics, Transportation Trust Fund.
In 1999 the management constructed a set of eight hangars which were larger and were able to accommodate many model twin engine airplanes. Upon completion these hangars were completely filled.
If you have any information regarding the history of Princeton Airport over the years, or if you have any pictures, please forward it to Princeton Airport, 41 Airpark Road, Princeton, New Jersey 08540. We are trying to compile a more comprehensive historical account.
Princeton Airport's Future Has Begun...
After ten years of planning Princeton Airport's major improvements were completed in 2001. This premiere facility doubled in size, making it now 100 acres. A new 3500' by 75' paved runway was completed in August , 2001, amidst some fanfare as the airport and the New Jersey Division of Aeronautics celebrated the construction of the first brand new runway in the state in over 30 years. By the end of November the airport's old runway was milled and paved to make a new full length taxiway. To brighten the airport at night a new pilot controlled lighting system was installed making the airport much more visible. Added to these features a much improved ramp was completed in December, providing transients with space to park while they conduct business or visit the Princeton area. The official ribbon cutting ceremony took place on May 18th, 2002, when Governor Jim McGreevey attended the dedication ceremony.
More recently the demand for hangars was met with construction with several sets - additions to the early hangars and new roofs; the eight large green hangars were next; two sets of two very large hangars were built contiguous to the administration building; a set of sixteen red hangars and a set of tan hangars to the west were completed and occupied. Cramped for space a second floor was put on the administration building in 2005 with four offices, a classroom, a flight planning room, and a lovely lounge which oversees airport operations. Through the help of the New Jersey Department of Transportation snow removal and grass cutting equipment as well as a backhoe to operate the facility more efficiently. Completion of a self-service fuel facility for 100LL should be completed in the spring of 2008.
2011: On the centennial of the aviation industry at Princeton Airport, the airport has AWAS; LPV GPS approach; and awaits any of the new technology that the future will bring.
R I N C E T O N A I R P O R T
© 2005 Princeton Airport