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Why Opposition to New Hangars in Often Wrongheaded

Jeff Wieand from Business Jet Traveler – Reports

Critics worry that they will lead to more flights. Here’s why the opposite can be true.

A lack of hangar space for business jets is a major issue at many airports. As Mark Huber pointed out in a Business Jet Traveler article last year, “we have more and bigger airplanes at fewer airports,” which means “scarcity and higher prices” for hangars. Scarcity means that buyers often have trouble basing their aircraft at the airport that’s most convenient and closest.

If hangar space is not available at your preferred airport, you could get on a waiting list, though as Huber points out, you might end up waiting more than a decade. Meanwhile, you won’t want to leave your multimillion-dollar business jet sitting on the tarmac. You could build your own hangar, but that is a complicated, time-consuming, and expensive undertaking. Besides, an airport that lacks hangar space often also lacks land for new hangars, and the process for obtaining the necessary approvals and constructing the hangar means that preparations for the project need to begin well in advance of taking delivery of an aircraft.

As a result, the most popular solution to the lack of hangar space at a preferred airport is to base the business jet elsewhere. This can be problematic as well. If you live in Manhattan and would prefer to base your aircraft in White Plains, New Jersey’s Teterboro might be a good second choice. Unfortunately, if White Plains is full, Teterboro may be as well. New York State’s Stewart International, which used to be a popular alternative to White Plains, is also full these days, but it’s still possible to find space at Oxford-Waterbury in Connecticut, or at the airports in Trenton, New Jersey, and Farmingdale, New York.

If you choose one of those, though, how would you link up with your aircraft for a flight? No one buys a business jet with the intention of driving a couple of hours to it every time they have a trip. Occasionally you hear about jet owners using helicopters to access their aircraft, but this usually happens in very special circumstances.

Of course, a business jet could quickly cover the distance between your preferred airport and one that’s 50 or 100 miles away. At Hanscom Field, Boston’s main private airport, hangar space is hard to come by. If it is your preferred airport and your jet is hangered at Manchester-Boston Regional in New Hampshire, it would take you about an hour (depending on traffic) to drive between them, but flight time in a jet would be about nine minutes. It’s no wonder that many aircraft owners who must hangar their jets at distant locations opt to be picked up and dropped off at their preferred airports.

Trips between your preferred airport and your jet’s home base burn fuel and add flight hours and cycles, but these costs are often more than compensated for by cheaper fuel and hangar space at the airport where you keep your aircraft. Still, the whole purpose of flying privately is to make travel easier, faster, more convenient, and more productive, so aircraft owners would likely prefer to have their jets available close by even if it costs a little more. As a result, popular airports are under great pressure to add more hangar space so that business jets can live there and not 50 or 100 miles away.

Proposals for more hangar space, however, meet with resistance from nearby residents, local towns, and environmental groups, which object to noise, burning fossil fuels, and air pollution. Building hangars can also raise concerns about cutting down trees, destroying open space, and creating noise on the ground at some locations, such as near residences, though these may not be the main objections.

More Is Less
The irony, however, is that additional hangars can actually result in fewer flights—and thus can reduce noise, fuel burn, and air pollution—if they are built to accommodate jets that would otherwise live elsewhere and position to the preferred airport. Instead of simply flying to its destination and back, an aircraft transporting passengers from the preferred airport that is based elsewhere must fly to and land at that airport to pick up the passengers and then, after bringing them home, fly back to its hangar. This is how two flights become four, causing more noise, more fuel burn, and more pollution.

There is ample evidence that more hangars can reduce flights. When Jet Aviation added a large new hangar at Hanscom Field, it made basing many more jets at the airport possible, and as a result, annual operations reportedly declined by over 8,000 flights. Similarly, when the airport added a third FBO (now Atlantic Aviation), operations declined by about 20,000 flights per year.

Short of flying on the airlines, most alternatives to operating your own jet don’t solve the positioning problem. You could, for example, sign up for a fractional program like NetJets or use a charter operator, neither of which requires you to have hangar space. However, positioning for each of these programs to and from your preferred airport also doubles the number of flights, and the aircraft will in many cases be burning more fuel to travel a long distance from the airport where its last trip ended. The only way to avoid the extra flights would be to charter an aircraft or enter into some sort of co-ownership arrangement for an aircraft already based at your preferred airport, which of course would make your flights subject to that aircraft’s availability.

The lesson here is not that airports should necessarily embark on hangar-building campaigns, but rather that it is important to understand who the hangars will serve and that the easiest way to reduce the number of flights at many airports is to maximize the ability of people who regard it as their preferred airport to base their aircraft there. Arguing against new hangars to cut down on the number of flights at an airport may be counterproductive. The best way to reduce flights is to match the location of the aircraft with the people who fly on it and thus minimize positioning flights to the extent possible.

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