The gulf between those who would see Teterboro closed and those who cannot imagine such a thing is fitting for an airport seemingly made of contradictions. It is a centerpiece of aviation history that is virtually unknown outside select circles, a gateway for the rich and famous that is surrounded by wetlands.
“People think it’s just tumbleweeds: ‘Oh, it’s just a noisy thing, we don’t need this,’” said Ed Furst, president of the Teterboro chapter of the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association. “But there’s a whole lot of business that’s behind this airport. There is a lot of history behind it.”
The airport is dominated by four companies that handle private planes, providing services from fuel to repair to storage, said Kirk Stephen, director of marketing for Meridian, which owns a terminal and three hangars at Teterboro.
On a recent afternoon, men in crisp suits and families dragging suitcases filed through Meridian’s lobby, which, with its illuminated Christmas tree, placards advertising free internet, and somewhat sterile air, was reminiscent of a first-class lounge at Kennedy or Newark.
“We cater to a very discerning clientele,” Mr. Stephen said.
The airport fiercely guards the privacy of its customers. Discretion is one of the reasons many choose Teterboro, Mr. Stephen said. Celebrities and business executives can slip undisturbed from the plane to the private terminal to a black car bound for the city.
Mr. Furst said airport workers were trained to give passengers a wide berth. Most are so accustomed to seeing famous faces that they hardly blink. (Mr. Furst conceded that he had once said hello to Bill Gates.)
Many of the restaurants that provide passenger meals are not even told who they are for, said Susanna Bazzarelli, co-manager of the nearby Italian restaurant Bazzarelli. Still, clues slip through.
An order once arrived for a “high-profile” customer who asked for several servings of kid-friendly foods such as pizza and pasta. Ms. Bazzarelli recalled thinking: “Oh, my God, like, it’s got to be Angelina Jolie.” (She later found out she was right.)
Teterboro is also an important gateway for organ transplants and other medical services, said Michael Klein, chief executive of OpenAir, a charter company that operates out of Teterboro. Airlifting a kidney or a heart needs to be done on short notice — a difficult task at commercial hubs, where takeoffs and landings must be scheduled days in advance, Mr. Klein said.
“We’ll get a call in the middle of the night,” he said. “Typically within an hour we’ll be in the air. Someone needs a liver, someone else dies and wants to donate a liver — that all comes together very quickly.”