Photo courtesy Kent Larson, DCAirPhotos.com,
© Aerial Photographers, LLC.
Atlantic City has formally told the FAA that it intends to close Bader Field airport, AOPA has learned from the FAA's Eastern Region. Under a law that AOPA helped get passed, the city is required to give at least 30 days advance notice of a proposed closing, even if there are no longer any federal grants in place. The airport will likely close in September.
"AOPA fought long and hard with the state of New Jersey and three successive Atlantic City administrations to save Bader," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "but sadly, there was little local interest in the airport."
When the last federal grant expires in September, the airport reverts to private property, leaving the city free to do as it pleases, which is to redevelop the 143 acres within a stone's throw of boardwalk casinos.
"The gambling interests were stronger than the aviation interests," said Boyer.
Ironically, the former head of the New Jersey Aviation Association, Tom Carver, is now executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which is offering to pay for studies and consultants to the city to turn the airport into something else.
"There's no desire to retain this as an airport," Carver told The Courier-Post newspaper.
And that was the problem - lack of interest. By 2001, there were only 10 based aircraft left at Bader Field. The city had neglected the airport for years, driving away aircraft and aviation businesses. The FAA even cited the city for the poor repair of the runways and taxiways.
But as more pilots and aircraft were driven away, it became increasingly harder to generate any kind of political support for the airport on either the local or national level.
"All politics are local," said Boyer. "A national organization like AOPA can have some influence on local politicians, but ultimately they respond to the loudest and most influential voices among their voters."
And that's how pilots elsewhere can help ensure that their airport doesn't go the way of Bader. Become involved in the local community and be an advocate for the airport. Push local authorities to apply for federal grants to maintain and improve the airport.
"Spending $10 to get $90 should look mighty good to local taxpayers, if they know about it," said Boyer. Federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants are a 90-10 match; the federal government will pay 90 percent of the project cost if the local entity pays 10 percent.
But there is a string tied to a federal airport grant - a contractual obligation to operate the airport for 20 years, or in perpetuity if the grant is used to buy land.
"AOPA will never give up on an airport until we've exhausted every political and legal angle," said Boyer. "But we can't do it alone. We need you to become involved with your airport."
July 28, 2006