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EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Atlantic City International Airport operators are optimistic that a record number of passengers will use the facility this year, based on response to new destinations offered by Spirit Airlines and AirTran Airways and service from Canada-based WestJet starting next month.

It's a big nut to crack.

Using statistics through August, the airport would need 553,894 more passengers during the final four months of the year to meet the 2007 record of 1,176,631travelers.

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The statistics provided by the South Jersey Transportation Authority, or SJTA, which runs the airport, show the percentage of airport users increased by 3.3 percent in June, 8.9 percent in July, and 15.7 percent in August. There were more than 21,000 more travelers in that period than the same period in 2008.

SJTA officials also credit some new marketing ventures with helping increase the number of passengers.

Spokeswoman Sharon Gordon said the projections have the agency thinking the 2007 record can be at least matched.

Spirit Airlines, which was Atlantic City International's lone major carrier for years, began service to Boston on May 1.

AirTran began service to Atlanta on June 11. It also added limited service to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the same month.

The AirTran service was considered crucial, as the Atlanta destination provides travelers with significant connections to domestic and international flights.

WestJet begins service to Toronto on Oct. 22. Toronto will serve as a hub to access to other Canadian cities.

WestJet's service is also seasonal, and will run from Oct. 22 through May.

However, on Tuesday, SJTA commissioners approved a full one-year lease agreement with WestJet for space at Atlantic City International. SJTA officials believe that's an indication that WestJet's seasonal service will become year-long service.

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