State and local officials for decades have chased a big win for Atlantic City International Airport — increased scheduled service by major carriers, even foreign flights to merit the global connection implied by its name.
Facilities have been expanded and airlines have been given subsidies to provide flights in and out of the airport for specific periods. The flights failed to attract customers and planes were mostly empty. And as soon as the subsidies ended, so did the flights.
Now South Jersey elected leaders — state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Reps. Jeff Van Drew, Donald Norcross and Andy Kim — want to try a different approach. A new effort is welcome and won’t need to achieve much to outperform other attempts the past three decades to get the underutilized airport to contribute more to the Atlantic County economy.
They want the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to consider purchasing the airport and working it into the business flows of its major airports surrounding New York City.
The Port Authority is allowed to take over a New Jersey airport and a New York airport outside its local jurisdiction. It already acquired Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, N.Y., in 2007.
The idea apparently originated with Sweeney, who sources said believes that the authority could use Atlantic City’s airport to take some pressure off its large JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports. The congressmen wrote to the authority, suggesting it purchase ACY and include it in plans to meet the bi-state region’s growing demand for air travel. Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole replied that it will study the possibility.
The Port Authority managed the airport from 2013 to 2017 under contract with owner South Jersey Transportation Authority. Officials had hoped it would bring in more flights then, but it didn’t happen.
They still hope for more passenger service and, no question, air passengers could someday be part of a more vibrant Atlantic City gaming tourism industry. Las Vegas has thrived on air travelers for decades. But as we’ve said before, new air service won’t make people want to fly to Atlantic City — people wanting to fly to the city will prompt airlines to provide the service to them. That won’t happen until what Atlantic City offers is substantially different and better than the casino hotels scattered throughout the eastern half of the country.
The great goal for Atlantic County’s impressive airport looks like it will remain elusive for a long time, but that doesn’t mean a Port Authority takeover wouldn’t be a significant improvement.
Perhaps it would help lead to the development of aviation maintenance or cargo logistics operations at ACY. The authority has small-package and logistics operations at Stewart International Airport.
Small improvements would be worthwhile. And if they’re complemented by companies using the county’s aviation research and technology park adjacent to the airport and the FAA’s world-class testing facility, that would be better still.
This is another case where the great shouldn’t be the enemy of the good. No need to hit a homerun, just a solid drive through an opening, so Atlantic City International Airport can get on base and in the game.