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FAA answers AOPA, orders Atlantic City to fix Bader FieldFAA answers AOPA, orders Atlantic City to fix Bader Field

Mr. Robert B. Mendez
Manager AEA-600
Airports Division
Federal Aviation Administration
Eastern Region Headquarters
JFK International Airport
Fitzgerald Federal Building
Jamaica, NY 11430

Dear Mr. Mendez:

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) represents over 355,000 individual pilots and aircraft owners nationwide, more than 9,100 of whom reside in the state of New Jersey. We continue to be extremely concerned with the incessant efforts by the city of Atlantic City to close Bader Field (AIY). The city of Atlantic City continues to ignore the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants assurances and the 1997 memorandum of understanding (MOU) that were signed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the New Jersey Division of Aeronautics, and the city of Atlantic City.

Three years after the signing of that MOU, the city has launched another attempt to close this valuable airport. Such action is unfortunate but not surprising. Since 1997, the sponsor continues to do its best to effectively strangle the airport. All attempts made by AOPA to mitigate the general aviation problems and find adequate solutions were bluntly disregarded by the sponsor. AOPA stands by the fact that the sponsor is obligated under the grant assurances to keep the airport open for public use until 2006. Therefore, we urge you to take action to enforce the MOU and the grant assurances.

The current situation has become extremely critical. General aviation is not being properly served at Bader. There are no fixed-base operator (FBO) services. Without an FBO since 1995, the May 1999 opening of AC/Bader Aviation Services was believed to be a step in the right director. However, barely two months later, this same service provider left the airport, citing contractual and safety issues on the part of the airport sponsor. No further steps have been taken to seek a replacement FBO as per the MOU.

Furthermore, ramps, runways, and taxiways are not being maintained or cleaned (including sharp shell fragments left on the runway surfaces by bird activity and dead bird carcasses). The windsock is also just a metallic skeleton with a little piece of torn fabric, and the MIRL on Runway 04-22 and the REIL on Runway 11-29 are out of service indefinitely.

These are just examples of the problems at Bader. The violations of Assurance 19 "Operation and Maintenance" and non-compliance with the majority of the MOU items would be enough to fill an encyclopedia.

The current small number of aircraft is, of course, the result of years of forcefully discouraging tenancy, service providers, and poor facilities maintenance. The 1991 NPIAS clearly shows that in that year, Bader Field had 44 based aircraft and over 140,000 operations! In 1987, the number of operations was 196,000. Such a high number of operations for such a relatively small number of based aircraft clearly demonstrate the usefulness of the airport, especially for transient traffic in accessing Atlantic City.

Simply put, the airport serves its purpose, which is to provide adequate access to Atlantic City. With the recent resurgence of general aviation, a continuous down spiral in number of based aircraft can only indicate that the sponsor intentionally restricts operations. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to see over 40 transient aircraft on the ramp at Bader on certain days. The demand is there; the supply is lacking. Claims stating that Bader Field constitutes 142 acres of wasted public lands undermines the validity of the above number and the purpose for which the 1986 AIP grant was issued for Bader Field. This grant was not a convenience, or a meaningless waste of federal funds, but rather a privilege.

The airport has been closed several times since 1997 in order to allow undisturbed use of the baseball facilities, especially at night when the lights emanating from the stadium are totally incompatible with the safe operation of the airport. All of this was done without the FAA’s approval as required by U.S.C. Title 49, Section 47107 (a) (8) and FAA Order 5190.6A, Chapter 4, Subparagraph 4-8 (e). As a matter of fact, the Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD) states that the airport is closed on Fridays between 1400 and 1700Z.

The latest FAA Form 51010 for Bader Field, dated May 1998, illustrates the derelict condition of the airport. The remarks section is just a conglomeration of lighting systems out of service, closed runways, displaced thresholds, and obstructions (many of which were not there a few years ago).

The public benefit is not assured merely by keeping the runways open to all users. The city of Atlantic City failed to provide basic or minimal support for the airport while dedicating time and funding to accommodate a baseball stadium on airport property and with FAA approval! While the baseball stadium was included in the MOU, no FAA approval exists for the existing ice rink.

Insinuating that the closure of Bader Field could be somehow mitigated by allowing both Bader traffic and funds to be diverted to Woodbine is simply preposterous. Located 17 miles southwest of Bader, Woodbine is not an adequate replacement.

Woodbine’s future is in no way dependent on Bader’s funds, as this airport can receive the funds it needs on its own through normal state and federal channels. Furthermore, we believe that the benefit to aviation of Bader Field, as defined and used in the grant assurances and in FAA Order 5190.6A, is its continued operation until 2006. The value of the access to Atlantic City by using Bader Field is irreplaceable and, therefore, has to be sustained as long as possible. An airport usefulness is determined and substantiated by its use, demand, and by the value given to its continued operation by both the FAA’s NPIAS and the New Jersey airport planning documents and the General Aviation Study Commission findings dated 1998. Airport usefulness is not determined by the non-aviation interests of the sponsor or its willingness of maintaining it.

In May 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO) released report GAO/RCED-99-109 titled Unauthorized Land Use Highlights Need for Improved Oversight and Enforcement. In this report GAO clearly illustrated the problems at Bader:

"Atlantic City has used airport property without obtaining FAA's approval or reimbursing the airport as required by federal grants that expire in 2006. Specifically, the city constructed a high school football field on airport land and used airport buildings for a police annex and fire station without approval or reimbursement. Furthermore, the airport's condition has gradually deteriorated during the 1990s, and the city claims that the airport is unsafe and therefore should be closed. Safety issues have resulted from unauthorized use.

In May 1996, after the city allowed the unauthorized excavation of an aircraft parking area for a minor league baseball stadium being constructed on the airport land, an aircraft accident occurred. A plane hit an unmarked and unlighted excavation hole at night. No injuries occurred. In addition, during the stadium's construction, land survey spikes were driven into the airport runways and left for an unknown period of time while the airport was still open.

In 1997, in defiance of FAA's explicit instructions that FAA's approval was required to build the stadium on the airport land, the Mayor of Atlantic City informed FAA that construction of the baseball stadium would proceed. FAA subsequently signed a memorandum of agreement that allowed the stadium to be built, hoping that through cooperation, the city would make needed safety improvements and not close the airport.

The agreement required the city to reimburse the airport for the fair market value of the baseball stadium land but did not resolve the city's unauthorized use of and lack of compensation for airport buildings and the land for the high school football stadium.

Although almost 2 years had passed without corrective action at the time of our review, FAA had not cited the airport for official noncompliance, requested the Inspector General to investigate the overt revenue diversion, or used other stronger enforcement methods.

In December 1998, we [GAO] discussed the noncompliance with FAA headquarters officials, who agreed to determine if the situation was serious enough to warrant enforcement action. On January 8, 1999, FAA requested the city to provide financial reports showing that rent from the baseball stadium was being deposited into an airport account. However, the city did not respond to the request or repeated phone calls, and a follow-up letter was sent on March 19, 1999."

Unfortunately, all attempts made by the FAA to assess in a more detailed fashion the extent of the revenue diversion at Bader, attempts that included requests for financial information, have gone unanswered. Moreover, as recently as December 1999, the FAA expressed concerns regarding the outstanding issues with Bader Field. These outstanding issues are not mere agreements, they are the law as written in U.S.C. Title 49. The response by the Atlantic City to the FAA’s concerns was to try once more to close the airport. Such attitude towards its obligations, if allowed to go unchecked, is a direct threat on the public airport system, the federal funding process for airports, and associated airport compliance program.

This total and blunt lack of responsibility on the part of the city cannot and should not be ignored. Over four years of failed "informal resolution" have obviously been a waste of time and resources for all those involved. AOPA believes that it is imperative that the FAA take immediate action to expedite the city’s compliance with both the grant assurances and the MOU by finding the sponsor in non-compliance and proceed with the appropriate enforcement actions.

Sincerely,

Miguel Vasconcelos
Director of Airports

cc: Mr. David L. Bennett
Director
Office of Airport Safety and Standards (AAS-1)
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591

Mr. Wayne Heibek
Manager
Airport Compliance Division (AAS-400)
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591
Fax: 202/267-5383

February 16, 2000

Topics: ADSB

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