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Atlantic City airport, where 'air-port' coined, closing
By GEOFF MULVIHILL, Associated Press Writer
Published: Tuesday, September 26, 2006
In the early days of flight, planes took off and landed plenty of places. But it wasn't until 1919 that the name for those places was born: A newspaper referred to Atlantic City's Bader Field, a strip of land surrounded on three sides by water, as an "air-port."

The old air-port's run will end at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, when it will close, cutting the engine on a place where every U.S. president from Theodore Roosevelt to Gerald Ford touched down and where the Civil Air Patrol was founded in 1941.

More recently, amateur pilots valued the city-owned Bader Field because it is within walking distance of the city's casinos.

But over the last two decades, conditions there have become far from optimal.

In 1990, Allegheny Airlines stopped running its commercial commuter flights into the airport and moved to the bigger, inland airport now known as Atlantic City International Airport. That airport has a 10,000-foot runway that, unlike Bader's 2,850-foot runways, can accommodate jets.

Around the same time, city officials decided Bader would not be part of the cityscape of the future and stopped applying for federal grants to keep up the place. Usually, those grants come with a string attached: They must be paid back if the airport stops operations within 20 years. The airport's last promise to stay in operation expired Sept. 9.

In the late 1990s, the control tower was removed and part of the airport's land was taken to make room for a minor-league baseball stadium.

The planes kept landing, however.

As recently as midsummer, it was not unusual to see more than 40 aircraft tied down, said city engineer Bill Rafferty.

But for the last two months, there's been no place for pilots even to fill their fuel tanks and traffic has slowed dramatically.

Saturday, crews are scheduled to paint big yellow "X's" on the runways to tell pilots they cannot land there any more.

Beyond that, the future of the land is uncertain. But in a booming gambling mecca, it's drawing interest.

Casino impresario Steve Wynn has been scouting the 130-tract for a possible casino, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported in Tuesday's newspapers.

So far, though, city officials have not convened an official commission to determine the future of the site.

"Mayor Levy and the City of Atlantic City want to make it in the best interest of the city," said Nicholas Morici, a spokesman for Mayor Robert Levy. "It could be anything from a casino to a residential community to an amusement park."

Aviation aficionados think the best use of the land is as an airport.

"Once an airport is gone, it's gone for good," said Andrew Schmertz, a New Yorker who makes aviation films, including some of landings at Bader. He said the airport could still be thriving if Atlantic City had marketed the airport to corporate planes.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association fought futilely to keep the airport open.

"It was an ideally situated municipal airport, immediately adjacent to the downtown area, just an excellent facility for people who either had business in Atlantic City, or more recently since the casinos arrived, tourists," said Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Maryland-based group.

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