EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The South Jersey Transportation Authority is again offering incentives to try to attract another airline to Atlantic City International Airport.
The authority is offering tiered marketing incentives of $25,000 to $140,000 to draw airlines to the region. Spirit Airlines is the airport’s only carrier.
Bob McDevitt, an SJTA commissioner since 2008, said that while there have been several versions of incentives over the years, this package was much more general and not directed at any specific airline.
“The more seats you provide to and from, the more money you get for marketing, and the more passengers you put on the plane, the more times you get an additional incentive,” he said, adding it’s structured more on performance as opposed to giving money to get access.
Previous attempts to provide subsidies to airlines have had minimal success. In the past, airlines lured to ACY by subsidies have stayed just as long as they were contracted to or even pulled out early.
But the new incentives are tiered depending on the number of seats a carrier can provide and then sell in one year, he explained.
For example, for domestic flights with 3,000 to 5,999 seats per year, the carrier would get $25,000 in marketing incentive. The tiers increase up to more than 27,000 seats per year, which would earn the carrier $125,000 in marketing incentive and $5 per passenger who returns through the airport for domestic flights.
The incentive is higher for international flights, with the first tier earning $40,000 in marketing and the top tier earning $140,000 with $5 per passenger who returns through the airport.
While the incentive is structured for one year, there is an option to renew for a second.
“It’s one of the most underutilized international airports in the country, and anything that would drum up interest and business in here ... I’m in favor of,” Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said. ”We most certainly want to see a very busy, viable airport.”
He said a busy airport will have a ripple effect through the county, benefiting everyone.
“We have to showcase Atlantic City to bring in year-round traffic,” he said. “It’s not just for the casino operators, it’s for the people that work in the casinos themselves, people that work in Atlantic City.”
SJTA Commissioner James “Sonny” McCullough said the authority has been working for years to encourage other airlines to provide service to the airport.
“The problem is this, an airline looks at a location for what it’s going to cost them to operate at that location, but, primarily, they look at what is the customer base in a geographic area,” he said. “When you go 12 miles east of the airport, all you have is fish, and fish don’t fly.”
In 2015, SJTA incentives convinced Air Canada to start service between Atlantic City and Toronto, but the airline dropped its route after that summer.
United Airlines began flying to Atlantic City from its Chicago and Houston hubs on April 1, 2014.
On Dec. 3, 2014, the last United flight landed at the airport. At the time, United officials said they ended service because demand didn’t meet its expectations. The SJTA did not seek repayment of more than $100,000 in marketing incentives from United, which was supposed to stay at the airport at least a year, out of fear it would hurt its ability to draw airlines to ACY in the future, state officials said at the time.
Other airlines that have backed out of ACY include Continental, US Airways, Delta, Northwest, WestJet, AirTran and even President Donald Trump’s ill-fated Trump Shuttle.
Now that the resolution passed, the authority will reach out to airlines, bring them to the area and encourage them to set up shop in the airport, he said.
If the incentives work, it would bring new customers to the area, not just for the airport but “a tremendous boost for the convention business,” McCullough said.
According to the SJTA December monthly report, total scheduled service passengers to ACY were up 5.8 percent from 2018 to 2017 with 1,058,379 passengers in 2018 up from 1,000,230 in 2017.