Since the 1980s, officials in Atlantic County have tried to make better and increased use of Atlantic City International Airport, which has runways big enough to land supersonic jetliners or even a space shuttle. A leading goal has been scheduled air service that could bring gamblers to the resort.
The current owner/operator of the airport, the South Jersey Transportation Authority, was created in 1992 to help that effort. The idea was that it could use toll revenue from its other major piece of transit infrastructure — the Atlantic City Expressway — to improve and expand the airport. The airport’s modern terminal and parking garage is an example of how that worked well.
The district’s leader in the state Legislature at the time, Sen. William Gormley, said the SJTA could work like the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which took a regional approach to operating the major airports around New York City.
Well, about a quarter century later, after much good effort but ultimately unsatisfactory improvement of business at A.C. International, South Jersey’s most powerful legislative leader wants to see ACY in the hands of the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J. itself. That looks like a good idea from many perspectives.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney recently said he wants the Port Authority to buy ACY under a 2007 agreement with New York state that allowed it to take over one airport in each state that is outside of its metro jurisdiction. That legislation allowed it to acquire New York Stewart International Airport, about 60 miles north of the city.
Stewart also has long runways and like ACY is home to an Air National Guard unit (as well as a Marine Reserve squadron). It has done well under the Port Authority, with large FedEx and U.S. Postal Service distribution centers adjacent to the airport, a nearby USDA inspection facility for plant and animal importers, and corporate jet service facilities.
Scheduled airliner service is relatively thin, as it is at ACY. Stewart hosts more than 100,000 passengers a year each on JetBlue and Allegiant airlines, and more than 300,000 on Norwegian Air Shuttle. But the biggest draw near Stewart is Poughkeepsie, N.Y., so it’s quite possible that the casino resort of Atlantic City would lure more flights with the Port Authority’s help. Sweeney said it has the best shot at doing so.
Since the 2015 AngelouEconomics report identified the aviation industry as one of Atlantic County’s best opportunities for growth and good paying jobs, officials have made excellent progress in that direction. A week ago they announced they are prepared to build a $4.5 million hangar if a deal is reached to bring a charter plane maintenance and repair facility to the airport — and with it, 125 such jobs. Recently it reached full leasing of the first building at the National Aviation Research and Technology Park at the airport.
The Port Authority, the world’s largest airport operator, could take these airport improvements to another level. That may not get ACY into the big leagues of airline service anytime soon, but getting it into the mix of major airports is more likely to help realize local dreams of fulfilling more of its economic potential.
The authority is studying the impact it could have in taking over Atlantic City International Airport. Let’s hope it finds great potential and a course of action to take ACY to a better future.