Some challenges can’t be overcome at will, no matter how strong the will, how vigorous the whatever-it-takes effort. Sometimes what can be done is limited, and a moderate effort to keep progress alive and possible is the best course.
That’s the case with two matters at the perennially underused Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township.
Spirit Airlines, its only major carrier, has a robust and growing service mainly to points south. For years, the South Jersey Transportation Authority has tried with little success to get an additional carrier at the airport.
The goal in the past has been to get flights that would bring visitors and vacationers to Atlantic City. At least five times in the past three decades, public money subsidized commercial flights and then the airlines dropped the flights as soon as the subsidies ended.
For example, about $2 million in Casino Reinvestment Development Authority funds were used to support United Airlines’ limited service from Chicago and Houston to ACY. The eight months of flights carried an average of 13 passengers per plane, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
As we said last year, there are better ways to spend public money to boost the area economy. Flights bringing visitors to Atlantic City will be feasible when the city becomes competitive with other destinations available to air travelers.
Last month, the SJTA chose a new approach. We like two things about it enough to overcome our general skepticism about government subsidies.
The flights being sought now would serve South Jersey residents, providing them with more convenient flying than driving to metropolitan airports. Spirit Airlines already has shown that can be profitable and sustainable.
The subsidy offered as encouragement seems appropriately modest, $100,000 a year for marketing and the waiver of landing fees, space rental and other charges.
Whether there is enough demand from residents for additional flights and destinations is unknown but worth finding out. There may be many people living an hour or so north who would prefer to drive south to a less crowded airport if the alternative were available.
The other flights in play at the airport, by the Air National Guard 177th Fighter Wing, are a roaring success. A sensible major upgrade to that mission, however, has for now been thwarted by a factor quite out of local control.
The 177th was on a list of 18 locations being considered for future deployment of the world’s most advanced fighter jet, the F-35A Lightning II. The base didn’t make the cut to the final five primarily because this region’s air quality is lower than that of others on the list.
We can only speculate why the Air Force would make that a significant criteria, since in war zones the dusty, polluted air is the least of concerns. Maybe for the initial deployments, fewer external factors will make evaluating the new planes’ performance easier.
South Jersey’s air quality is good, but prevailing winds bring it factory and power-plant emissions from the Midwest. Can’t do anything about that.
What Rep. Frank LoBiondo and the rest of the N.J. congressional delegation did was sign and send a measured, thoughtful letter to the secretary of the U.S. Air Force expressing their disappointment with the decision on the 177th and asking what could be done to improve the ACY base’s chances for future deployments.
More importantly, the letter laid out three strong advantages of the 177th location: The base already has the infrastructure for the advanced jets and needs little modification; it is strategically located midway between New York City and Washington, D.C.; and the unit has 14 years of homeland-defense experience including three combat deployments to the Mideast.
That’s just the right touch. LoBiondo has higher hopes for the airport and its FAA Hughes Technical Center in the coming air traffic control modernization. The reasonable letter shows that interest in a 177th upgrade and willingness to work for it remain strong, without putting off anyone or trying to use too much influence vainly.