|Atlantic City's Bader Field (seen during AOPA Expo '99). The city built a baseball stadium and ice rink on airport property without first obtaining required FAA approval.|
The FAA issued an unprecedented "emergency order of compliance" March 3, demanding that Atlantic City, New Jersey, immediately fix unsafe conditions at its Bader Field airport.
"Bader Field is the poster child for everything that can be done wrong at an airport," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We commend the FAA for finally taking this forceful action to correct a problem that has been festering far too long."
AOPA had sent a letter to top FAA officials three weeks ago, asking them to take enforcement action against Atlantic City for its continued neglect of Bader Field.
"The city continues to do its best to strangle the airport," wrote AOPA Director of Airports Miguel Vasconcelos. "The situation is critical."
AOPA said the city had allowed the airport to deteriorate to an unacceptable level of disrepair. The association cited unkempt runways and taxiways, littered with sharp shell fragments that could damage aircraft tires and cause a pilot to lose control.
Also cited were a tattered windsock, out-of-service runway lights (MIRL) on Runway 4-22, and inoperable runway end identifier lights (REIL) on Runway 11-29. AOPA said that Atlantic City's violations would be "enough to fill an encyclopedia."
The FAA agreed.
The FAA's emergency order of compliance demanded that Atlantic City fix all of the AOPA-cited items, plus a host of other violations. Those include inoperable precision approach path indicators (PAPIs) on Runway 11-29, improper runway edge lights, inadequate signing, and poor pavement markings.
The agency said runways and taxiways must be repaired to prevent ponding.
The FAA also told Atlantic City to remove a helicopter-landing platform that obstructs a runway safety area and to remove a broken wind tee that "provides airmen with an inaccurate indication of which way the wind is blowing."
In all, the FAA ordered Atlantic City to fix immediately some 13 unsafe conditions.
But there are even more issues looming over Atlantic City, problems that could cost the city substantial money. That's because the federal government could force the city to pay civil penalties for airport revenue diversion.
Atlantic City had agreed to abide by regulations concerning airport land use and to maintain a viable, well-maintained airport when it accepted federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants for Bader Field. These "grant assurances" obligate the city to keep the airport open to public use until 2006.
The grant assurances also dictate that airport land can't be taken for non-aviation use without proper FAA approval and that revenue from any taken land be returned to the airport account.
Atlantic City has built a baseball stadium, ice skating rink, and other facilities on airport land—without first obtaining the proper approvals, and without returning revenue from those facilities to the airport.
AOPA says that's revenue diversion, which is prohibited by law. Congress' watchdog General Accounting Office (GAO) concluded the same thing in its 1999 report on airports, "Unauthorized Land Use Highlights Need for Improved Oversight and Enforcement."
"This total and blunt lack of responsibility cannot and should not be ignored," AOPA wrote FAA officials. "Such an attitude toward legal obligations, if allowed to go unchecked, is a direct threat to the public airports system, the federal funding process for airports, and the associated airport compliance program."
The federal government could force Atlantic City to pay civil penalties, including repaying—with interest—airport revenues diverted to non-airport uses.
AOPA urged the FAA to continue its enforcement actions against Atlantic City.
A copy of AOPA's letter to the FAA is available on AOPA Online.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, based outside Washington, D.C., represents more than 355,000 pilots who own or fly three quarters of the nation's 192,000 general aviation aircraft. General aviation aircraft comprise 96 percent of the total U.S. civilian air fleet.
March 7, 2000