HISTORY of PRINCETON AIRPORT
FOR HISTORY OF PRINCETON AIRPORT – Late ’70s to Early ’80s – PRINCETON AIRWAYS
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 judgement 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, Route 206, 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.
Once more the Division of Aeronautics provided the airport with a SuperUnicom, which provides pilots automated weather conditions and advisories 24 hours a day. So proudly, Princeton Airport has accepted the terms and conditions for State and Federal monies to keep Princeton Airport a vital link of the national air transportation system and bring air traffic into the Princeton region more quickly and much more safe, as a result of this funding.
2004 – A Typical Day on 39N’s Ramp
New Runway, Taxiway,
Lighting & Communication System
May 18th, 2002
|In appreciation for your past, present and future support, we invite you to
Join us in celebrating the dedication of our new, state of the art 3500’ runway,
taxiway, lighting and communication system, which makes Princeton Airport
one of the safest and most efficient general aviation airports in the country.
ØDedication & ribbon cutting ceremony
ØSpeakers from the aviation community and government
ØRefreshments following ceremony
Saturday, May 18th, 2002 11:00 a.m.
Naomi, Dick & Ken Nierenberg
Route 206, Princeton, New Jersey
Highlights of the Dedication – May 18th, 2002
When we awoke early on May 18th, it was apparent that no outdoor activities could be held that day as it was pouring. Fortunately the maintenance hangar was swept and we implemented Plan B – an indoor ceremony. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers and the Princeton Airport’s Flying Tigers, the place was ready to receive dignitaries, big and small.
The program was hosted by Naomi Nierenberg, who greeted the many gathered despite the weather. The following are excerpts from her talk.
We are about to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the flight flight by the Wright Brothers in December of 2003, we note that Princeton Airport was early to join the aviation world, only eight years after “First Flight – 1911″. Aviation certainly has come a long way in such a short time. But more importantly, how unique aviation is to Americans? – and how unique to America is the right to learn to fly? People come from all over the world to the United States to follow their dreams of learning to fly. But we cannot forget the events of September 11th that perverted something wonderful in something so evil.
Americans were outraged, but the aviation community had a particularly difficult time with the events of last fall, and that is why any celebration was inappropriate, even though this project was so long in coming. Airports in the northeast and Washington area suffered long and hard, but we are fighting back. We have seen people who haven’t used their licenses in 10-20 years return to get current because they wanted to keep that privilege of flying. And they wanted to support the aviation industry.
At this point Ken Nierenberg, airport manager, was to have flown a brand new American Champion Decathlon, and cut the ribbon with the propeller. Ms. Arlene Feldman, Administrator of Eastern Region of the Federal Aviation Administration, was introduced. During the introduction it was noted the Arlene attended the Grand Opening in 1985 when the Nierenberg family bought and took over Princeton Airport. The program called for Arlene to address “Princeton Airport & the National Air Transportation System”. At this point Arlene immediately stated that she was not speaking on the subject at hand, but rather she wanted to commend the three Nierenbergs for their strength and determination to see this project to completion, despite the many obstacles along the way. She recounted that Ken was a youngster when she first met the family at the then, Kupper Airport, as Director of the Division of Aeronautics, prior to her employment with the FAA. She praised the family for the fine airport that Princeton has become.While introducing John Olcott, President of National Business Aviation Association, Naomi recalled how he wrote about the plight of New Jersey’s general aviation airports in the ’80s, when it were lost six airports in 18 months, and airport owners closed 75% of their airports and marched in front of the Statehouse in Trenton, joined by the aviation community. At that time he was the editor of the magazine, Business and Commercial Aviation. John spoke of the enormous contribution general aviation makes to the national economy. Citing huge dollar figures, it is an industry that must be strengthened and supported.
”When Ted Matthews became the Director of the Division of Aeronautics, many in the aviation community raised an eyebrow, as how does someone from “freight” know anything about New Jersey’s airports?”, recalled Naomi Nierenberg, during her introduction. But we were all pleasantly surprised when he took charge.
Ted spoke of the plight of New Jersey’s airports and how there are many battles yet to be won. He praised the efforts of Princeton Airport’s operators, for their willingness to make Princeton into one of the finest airports. Aviation in New Jersey has always been a challenge and we need to supports efforts to keep the resources which we have. He also praised the administration for its recent support of general aviation airports.
Then Naomi introduced her husband, Dick, who 35 years ago decided her rather become run an airport than sell furniture. The many years of hard work, long hours, day after day, and finally two hips and one shoulder replacements later, we are here.
Dick spoke of the long path that it took to get Princeton Airport where it is today. When the airport was purchased in 1985, the previous owners could have sold the land for anything other than an airport, but the Van Dyke family had the airport on the market for four years when the family made the purchase. But after moving in on March 29, 1985, the first noise complaint came on April 1st. And that was the beginning of a long, difficult challenge with Montgomery Township. To be continued…