A Port Authority takeover could bring new life to Atlantic City airport
Atlantic City’s struggling airport may soon get a lift from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
New Jersey elected officials are pushing for the bi-state agency to take over Atlantic City International Airport from the South Jersey Transportation Authority. The Atlantic County freeholders added further weight by unanimously approving a resolution July 16 supporting the Port Authority conducting a feasibility study for taking over the aviation facility in nearby Egg Harbor Township.
“We have to seize every opportunity to make this airport more functional and certainly more of an economic driver,” U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J., said in a statement Monday. “Perhaps this will do the trick.”
Van Drew along with Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, have been proposing since March a Port Authority takeover of the Atlantic City airport, which is only served by one airline. The Port Authority previously had an agreement from 2013 to 2017 with the SJTA to provide operational support for $500,000 annually. The bi-state agency created a task force earlier this year to study buying the airport.
“We take the proposal very seriously," Port Authority executive director Rick Cotton said during a May 23 board of commissioners meeting. “We’re trying to identify the cohort of consulting firms that have expertise with respect to not only airports in general but with respect to the New Jersey region, and we’re fully committed to getting one onboard, enabling the study, and coming to conclusions as quickly as possible.”
The Port Authority runs John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, LaGuardia Airport and New York Stewart International airport in Newburgh. The airports collectively handled a record 137.9 million passengers in 2018 marking a 3.8% increase from a previous high seen in 2017.
Atlantic City Airport ranked 128th out of 231 U.S. airports for passenger volume in the 2018 Airports Council International Worldwide Traffic Report released in September. The airport saw an 11% dip in scheduled service passenger volume for 2017 compared to 2016 before seeing a 5.8% increase in 2018 at 1,058,379, according to SJTA data. Spirit Airlines is the one-terminal airport’s only commercial passenger carrier.
Bolstering Atlantic City Airport is considered an important component of the city’s efforts to attract more tourists as it tries to diversity its economy being casinos. Atlantic City, which has been made fiscal progress since being taken over by the state in November 2016, still is rated in junk territory at B2 by Moody’s Investors Service and B by S&P Global Ratings.
“We need to have more than one airline coming out of that airport,” said Atlantic County Freeholder Ernest Coursey, D-Atlantic City, during the July 16 meeting. “I think it is good for the region.”
The SJTA press office did immediately respond to a request for comment. The agency, which also runs the Atlantic City Expressway, has bond ratings of Baa2 by Moody’s and BBB-plus by Fitch Ratings.
The Port Authority is one of the nation’s largest municipal bond issuers with $22.1 billion in bonded debt outstanding at the end of 2018, according to its year-end financial statement. The transportation agency has credit ratings of Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service and AA-minus by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings.