As the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey takes the lead in operating Atlantic City International Airport, it's clear that the agency will face challenges.

Despite the airport's singular carrier, the number of scheduled passengers through the airport had consistently increased in recent years. Airport travel climbed from 1.12 million passengers in 2007 to about 1.4 million in 2012.

Now, however, it appears even those small increases won't be seen by the end of 2013 unless some significant changes are made. In the first half of the year, the airport has seen a 25 percent drop in the number of scheduled service passengers, according to the most recent data released by the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

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In the first six months of the year, the airport saw 494,668 passengers. By the same time in 2012, 661,705 passengers had been through the airport. June alone saw a 23 percent decline with 93,456 passengers compared with 121,515 passengers in June 2012.

Misty Pinson, a spokeswoman for Spirit Airlines, said the airline has cut back on flights to Atlantic City because the demand isn't there. After Hurricane Sandy in October, the airline began to see fewer people looking for flights to the gambling shore town, likely due to perceptions of how Atlantic City was affected.

In April, Spirit also added service at Philadelphia International Airport - the closest competition to Atlantic City. The airline now offers daily nonstop service to Dallas/Fort Worth and Las Vegas - two destinations not offered in Atlantic City.

Spirit also is offering service to Myrtle Beach, Fla., a destination that Atlantic City also serves. Atlantic City currently offers a 6:30 a.m. flight, and Philadelphia offers a 7:25 a.m. flight daily, to Myrtle Beach.

Pinson, however, has said the changes in Philadelphia have had no effect on any decisions made in Atlantic City.

Still, Michael La Pier, Myrtle Beach's airport director, said the additional service undoubtedly will be a help for the southern shore destination.

"The convenience and frequency of flights will enable people to visit our 60 miles of beautiful beach and lush green fairways whenever they want," he said.

Lawmakers have been less concerned with where locals might fly to for vacations and more concerned with where Atlantic City might find additional visitors. To that end, Gov. Chris Christie, who has named Atlantic City's revitalization as one of his priorities, recently approved the Port Authority to take over operations of Atlantic City International Airport.

After negotiations, the agreement went into effect last month, with Port Authority officials now working in tandem with the South Jersey Transportation Authority. SJTA never has turned a profit while operating the airport. Instead, tolls from the Atlantic City Expressway have supplemented airport operations.

That will likely continue to be the case unless new carriers are added. SJTA will pay the Port Authority $500,000 a year to control marketing and air-service development, among other responsibilities. The arrangement will extend for 15 years with the terms of the agreement renegotiated every five years.

A copy of the contract between SJTA and the Port Authority, however, shows there are no strict deliverables in the arrangement, as officials have said.

Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni promised the authority will work "around the clock" to use its leverage with airlines to grow Atlantic City's offerings, yet no specifics have been announced.

Earlier this year, the Port Authority said Air Canada may be interested in adding service at Atlantic City, which recently completed upgrades allowing for international travel. To date, no announcements have been made.

Contact Jennifer Bogdan:


@ACPressJennifer on Twitter

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