The Famous, Infamous Teterboro

They write songs about it. Pilots complain about it. If you’re going to the Big Apple, you will find yourself there, sooner or later.

Teterboro. It’s an airport in New Jersey—known as KTEB. It is only 12 miles by car or bus from Manhattan. They write songs about it. Pilots complain about it.The neighbors abhor it. Many corporate drivers loathe it. Many private pilots fear it. If you’re going to the Big Apple, you will find yourself there, sooner or later.

My own Teterboro experiences go back a ways—a long ways. With a newly minted private pilot certificate, I first rented a Cessna 172 at what is now Atlantic Aviation in the fall of 1967, just 55 years ago. In those days, there was no Class B airspace over LaGuardia, Newark, and Kennedy airports (KLGA, KEWR, and KJFK, respectively). I was living in a dorm room in Manhattan. To get to Teterboro in order to rent an airplane involved a subway ride to the port authority bus terminal and a bus ride to the airport or, I should say, to the corner of the airport. The FBO was a good half-mile walk from the bus stop.

Once at the FBO and standing in front of the rental desk, I would declare myself suddenly current. I don’t remember the price exactly, but it couldn’t have been much in today’s dollars. Since I didn’t have much cash, I only did this two or three times a year. After all, I’d have to have the money, the weather had to be good, and an airplane had to be available.

I remember only a few flights. One was at night. You could saunter up and down the Hudson with abandon at 1,500 feet, and nobody could tell you any different. The lights of the city dazzled. Another memorable flight was during the day. I invited a cute girl from class, made a big show of knowing what I was doing, and took off. Once the Manhattan tour was over, I found myself over the George Washington Bridge, peering west into the late afternoon haze looking for Teterboro, the reliable airport from which I had departed just minutes before. The field was nowhere to be seen. Was I aware that both Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart had been able to find Teterboro without difficulty? No.

I headed towards where I expected Teterboro to be, saw nothing, and lost my nerve. Newark airport had to be out there somewhere too, so I headed back to the bridge—my last known position. In the 1960s, the air around New York could be foul and visibility poor. When the hour rental was almost up, I forged into New Jersey and hoped.I was almost over the tower when I saw it. That cute girl and I were married two years later.

Education, work, and the Army took me west and I didn’t see much of Teterboro until 1973, when I bought a Beechcraft Musketeer while stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky. We could fly nonstop to Teterboro to see our families. That 581-nm trip could take up the better part of the day, but the exhilaration lasted for months.

Jobs in St. Louis, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois, followed, as did increasingly capable airplanes, but Teterboro seemed to remain a constant. Then a classic American event occurred: Both my family and my wife’s family left New York. We had no reason to fly to Teterboro anymore.

I did have one memorable Teterboro trip 20 years later. By then, I had moved to Tampa, Florida, and was in search of a Cessna 340. I found one on the ramp at Teterboro. I flew commercially in the dead of winter to look at N6828-Charlie. The airplane sat forlornly at Meridian (an FBO on the west side of the airport), covered with snow. My excitement at potentially owning such a magnificent beast overwhelmed the gloomy skies and raw wind. I was in love.

That airplane served us very well for five years—we were based at KTPA, the big airport in Tampa—but still, there was no recurring reason to fly to the New York area.

All that changed in 2013, when I quit a surgery job and got hired by JetSuite, a Part 135 operator out of California. Assigned as a first officer to the Cessna Citation CJ3, I was in heaven and about to become intimately familiar with Teterboro airport, its surrounding burgs and restaurants, and most notably, its nearby hotels. Suddenly, I was in Teterboro at least once a week, sometimes three times a day.

I developed a favorite room selection at the Embassy Suites in nearby Secaucus. I knew just what to order in the breakfast line. I commiserated with other professional pilots billeted at the same place. Sometimes we’d check out in the morning, fly to Boston, Massachusetts, West Palm Beach, Florida, and back, and check back into the same hotel—sometimes even the same room.

Most of the time we were at Meridian, sometimes at Atlantic Aviation. In winter, it was cold and raw. In summer, it was hot and humid. Sometimes you had to wait for hours for your clearance to taxi, sometimes there was a ground stop. Sometimes we were No. 14 for takeoff. Sometimes we were issued new routing as we inched to the takeoff runway. This could make us tight on fuel. I got comfortable with the ILS 6 circle-to-land Runway 1 approach, even on wintry nights. It must be respected, though—it claimed a Learjet a few years ago even though the weather was good and it was daytime.

I experienced an interesting go-around or two at Teterboro. One was when I was the FO. I was the pilot flying and the captain was the pilot monitoring. We were cleared (again) for the ILS 6 circle-to-land Runway 1 approach. When we checked in with the tower, we were “cleared for the visual, Gulfstream departing prior to (our) arrival.” 

The tower frequency was then completely occupied by a clearance correction for another aircraft. At 200 feet, I said to the captain, who had been trying unsuccessfully to get permission to land, that we should go around. He concurred. That caught the tower’s attention. Challenged, I keyed the mic with this explanation: “No permission to land, congested frequency.” We were cleared for the downwind, no questions asked.

Now, I fly into Teterboro occasionally in the Citation CJ1 that my wife and I own. These are Part 91 trips. I always want to be on my game and professional. When I call the tower, I include our parking information. I try to maintain requested airspeeds for separation. Last week, we got a great view of Manhattan on that ILS 6 circling approach. Most pilots of private jets know this magnificent sight, including the Freedom Tower, only too well. After a soft landing, it was “left turn on Delta, Charlie, Quebec, Gulf, hold short of 24.” We were marshaled to Meridian’s front door. All those flights, all those sights, and all those years flooded the windshield of my mind.

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