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Morristown (NJ) Airport Facilities Upgraded

Mon Jun 02, 2003 12:17 pm

From the Morris County edition of the Sunday Star Ledger,

"Morristown Airport facilities upgraded

Sunday, June 01, 2003

Star-Ledger Staff

Just as business aviation is taking off again, the company that serves many of the corporate aircraft flying in and out of Morristown Municipal Airport is putting the finishing touches on a two-year, $16 million expansion.

"This is an airport that, in the next five, 10 years is going to be something to reckon with," said Henry Paulino, general manager of Signature Flight Support, the largest tenant at the town-owned airport.

Morristown Municipal is already home to more than 250 aircraft, including those flown by the Fortune 500 companies that have been moving to the area.

"One of the reasons Honeywell, AT&T and other organizations are located in Morristown, as opposed to Chicago, is that they can have access to the airport," said John Olcott, president of the National Business Aviation Association.

While Honeywell and AT&T have their own hangars at Morristown, other customers rely on Signature's 70 employees for parking, fuel and other services to planes with six to 20 seats. Part of a British holding company, Florida- based Signature has operations at 40 U.S. airports, four in Europe and in Hong Kong.

When Signature came to Morristown in 2000, one of its hangars was 50 years old and relied on portable toilets.

"We were living out of trailers," said Marilyn Vela, operations manager.

As the number of aircraft served daily grew to 60 from 45 in 1999, Signature built a 90,000-square-foot hangar, a 10,000-square-foot passenger terminal, and doubled the size of its tarmac.

Amenities now include conference space, a weather room, crew lounges with showers and a snooze room for catnaps. The last of the old hangars is to be demolished before a grand opening on June 12.

Signature's expansion at the airport comes as forecasts call for business aviation to take off again after a decline in sales in 2002 and 2003. Companies are expected to take about 900 deliveries annually through 2010, according to Honeywell Aerospace's Business Aviation Outlook.

The last time there was such growth was during the 1991 recession, Olcott said. Since then, the number of companies operating their own aircraft jumped 50 percent, to 10,191 firms.

While tough times are again causing businesses to lay off employees and cut back on travel, those left behind must work more productively -- and that's where private aircraft play an important role, Olcott said.

"When times are tough, you have to work harder to keep existing customers and expand market share," he said. "So, if you're looking to really serve a broad area or new markets, you've got to get to those rural areas, and airlines can't help you that much."

For privacy and security reasons, Signature does not identify its customers at Morristown, where other airport tenants include Avaya, BASF, Lucent, Schering- Plough, Viacom and Wyeth.

Last year, they contributed to the airport's 236,339 flights, a tally surpassing Teterboro's and ranking Morristown as the second-busiest airport in the state. The busiest, Newark Liberty International, had 411,239 flights.

"It allows companies to be located in the New York area, but still be removed from New York and still have access," Olcott said of Morristown.

Even though its 600 acres are comparable to LaGuardia Airport's, there were definite contrasts when Signature renovated at each airport.

At LaGuardia's historic Marine- Air Terminal, "we needed permission every time we drove a nail in the wall," Paulino said. At Morristown, with its nearby wetlands, workers took special care to avoid disturbing deer and wild turkeys -- as well as the turtle that occasionally crosses Signature's tarmac and that Vela swears is the size of a frying pan. "

Eastern Air lines flt # 701, EWR-MCO Boeing 757

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