One of the advantages of New Jersey being the most densely populated state is easy access to major cities and major airports like Newark Liberty, JFK and Philadelphia .
In South Jersey, the Atlantic City International Airport is aiming to become the airport of choice for travelers in the region.
The airport is undergoing a $27 million expansion that includes adding 75,000 square feet . Bart Mueller, executive director of the South Jersey Transportation Authority, says Atlantic City International is the 108th busiest of the 800 airports that offer charter service. Despite the growth, Mueller says nearby competition still poses a major challenge.
“We’re located between two major markets. That’s always been our biggest challenge in actually developing air service but we don’t want to be Philadelphia, we don’t want to be Newark Liberty,” Mueller said. “We want to be that regional hub airport that serves South Jersey on the inbound and outbound market and also supports the industry in Atlantic City and that renaissance that is taking place today.”
The expansion — which includes a federal inspection station enabling regularly scheduled international service , three new gates , an expanded tarmac ramp and aircraft parking — is just one of the factors executives say will attract more travelers .
The goal of attracting more travelers will require attracting more airlines. Right now, the airport only has one carrier — Spirit Airlines. Mueller says it can be difficult to woo airline carriers.
“How do you help them make money, how do you partner with them and how do you ensure they stay here? That’s the $64 question,” he said.
Mueller says the answer to that question lies in the ongoing expansion project and support from the governor and the legislature for Atlantic City’s revitalization, which he insists will result in more buy-ins from stakeholders.
But he cautions that attracting more air service is always an uphill battle.
“Being a small, regional hub is tough, but there’s always that right fit,” Mueller said.
The Atlantic City International Airport served about 1.4 million customers last year and last March was its busiest March on record serving more than 122,000 people.
Traveler Bob Ruth who flew in from Las Vegas says if his family didn’t live nearby , the airport wouldn’t be his first choice because of the limited number of flights, a lay-over and the cost of the ticket.
“I had a choice of one airline to come here. Sometimes it’s easier to fly into Philly then it is Atlantic City,” said Ruth. “I could have rented a car and the flight for what I paid to fly into Atlantic City.”
Mueller says conversations with six or seven airlines are ongoing . NJ Today contacted Southwest Airlines who said that while Atlantic City is not on its map, it remains on its radar . And JetBlue said it’s always evaluating new cities but has nothing to announce at this time.
“We sat down with United Airlines three weeks ago to talk about how we can help them out with their diversions,” Mueller said. “Once we talk about handling those kind of diversions, then we can also begin the conversation about regularly scheduled air service.”
The airport expansion project will be completed in phases throughout the summer . Mueller expects Spirit will add direct service to two or three Caribbean destinations by early next year .
Lauren Wanko reports from Egg Harbor Township.