Port Authority Tried Before to Make Profit at Small Airport
March 29, 2013
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  • By Ted Mann

    Officials from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are confident they can engineer a turnaround at Atlantic City International Airport, one that New Jersey officials hope will boost the fortunes of the coastal region.

    But to do that, the Port Authority will also be taking a second shot at a goal that has eluded it once before: making a small airport miles outside the city turn a profit.

    The Port Authority purchased Stewart Airport in Newburgh in 2007 and has invested millions in improvements at the airport, including a planned $148 million overhaul of its runways.

    But profitability has been elusive at Stewart, even as aviation revenue remains the largest source of revenue for the Port Authority. In an audit last year of the authority, the Navigant Group found that only Stewart, of all the port’s aviation facilities, had a negative operating cash flow over the period from 2007-11. (Accounting for capital expenditures and other factors, Teterboro Airport also lost money over that period, the audit report said.)

    Meanwhile, ridership has plummeted at Stewart, falling to 360,074 passengers served in the 12 months ending last January, a drop of more 16% in passenger traffic since the beginning of the year Delta Airlines DAL -1.51%eliminated service to Atlanta from the airport, and US Airways LCC -1.83%reduced the number of available seats headed to Philadelphia, according to Port Authority ridership reports.

    “The only good news at SWF is JetBlue JBLU -2.32%,” the January report reads, noting the the airline boosted service to Orlando.

    The change since the Port Authority bought the airport is even more stark. Annual passenger traffic that year was nearly three times as high: 913,927 passengers passed through Stewart.

    Port Authority officials said they were confident the port can bring new traffic and business to Atlantic City, and a spokesman pointed to a Regional Plan Association study from 2011 that noted that investments in outlying airports could eventually provide new options for regional passengers who would otherwise go to the core airports — LaGuardia, JFK and Newark.

    But where future investments will come from is a touchy question, especially with the Port Authority facing mounting debt.

    The same Navigant audit found that infrastructure at the five Port Authority aviation facilities averaged 52 years old, with $6.5 billion in capital projects planned through 2020, and an additional $4.3 billion in unfunded projects to be done.

    That’s before any investments that the Port Authority might decide to make in Atlantic City.