June 13, 2018

FAA Accepts Master Plan for Mercer Airport Improvements

By Anne Levin

With acceptance by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) received last week, Trenton-Mercer Airport is now able to pursue plans for upgrading, updating, and modernizing. But these projects at the increasingly popular Ewing Township airport do not include an increase in the size or number of flights, according to Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes.

“This is just to give people a better experience when they travel in and out,” he said Tuesday. “It’s something we’ve been waiting for a long time. The stamp of approval from the FAA allows us to move forward with scoping plans for a new terminal. The one we have now is about 55 or 60 years old and it lacks many of the modern amenities you’d expect from a growing airport.”

It has been two decades since the airport has updated its master plan. Consultants Urban Engineers and McFarland Johnson have been working on the plan, which is funded 90 percent by the FAA and 10 percent by Mercer County. Three public meetings have been held during the process, and residents of the neighborhood near the airport have expressed concerns about noise, tree removal, and land acquisition.

Hughes said no extensions or dimensional changes to the two runways have been proposed. “We don’t have plans to take over people’s houses. We don’t have plans to buy houses,” he said. “If people want to stay in their houses, they’ll be more than welcome to do so. And the experience going forward will be much like it is right now.”

Improvements and changes to the aging terminal will increase capacity. The existing terminal is 24,780 square feet, and it processes more than 377,000 passengers annually, according to information from the Mercer County website. The proposed upgrade is to increase the capacity to about 125,000 square feet, while still providing four hold rooms and four gates for aircraft.

Better bathrooms, improved baggage collection, and access to concessions after passing through security are also part of the plan. Instead of walking onto the tarmac and climbing steps, passengers will enter the aircraft via boarding bridges. “For many customers, walking onto the tarmac and up the steps is not something they can do easily,” Hughes said.

The airport, which opened in 1929, is located on what was once a farm field. Several commercial airlines have flown in and out of the airport over the years. Frontier Airlines is currently the only commercial carrier, offering flights to more than 35 cities. For residents of the local area and beyond, the airport has served as a welcome alternative to larger locations such as Newark and Philadelphia.

The planned changes will not alter the intimate feel. “We’re trying to stay within our budget, and also keep that small town feeling where you can drive up, park your car, go through security, and get on the plane relatively quickly,” said Hughes. “That’s what people love about Mercer Airport. We don’t want to change that.”

Hughes said the airport has gotten high marks from the FAA for security. “And they have been very helpful in supporting our taxiway and lighting improvements, which have been going on for a long time,” he said. “Frontier has signed up for another five-year commitment, so we think this is a good time to make improvements. The passenger facility charge that everybody pays will go into those improvements.”

Approval by the FAA does not give the airport the green light to start the construction project. It means that the agency has no safety concerns related to the master plan, and that it conforms to FAA standards. Mercer County can now pursue environmental approvals for beginning the terminal design process. Other projects, including taxiway reconstruction and design work, can be initiated in coming months.

The airport “will not become a mini-Newark with multiple terminals and gates and more flights,” Hughes said. “That is really not the plan here. The plan is now that we have an ongoing concern, let’s make it the best experience we can.”