Bader Field used to be the Atlantic City Municipal Airport (KAIY). It’s still there in the very shadow of the boardwalk casinos, but as an airport, Bader Field is dead. The runways are all closed and a minor league baseball stadium and concert venue dominate the grounds.
Historic Bader Field was the first place ever called an ‘air-port.’ It opened in 1910 and the Civil Air Patrol was founded there in 1941. Glenn Curtiss, Charles Lindbergh and Admiral Richard Byrd flew there, and for three decades it was the site of the Black Pilots Association and the Powder Puff Derby. The first attempt to cross the Atlantic by air (a dirigible) departed from there and during the 1960s and 70s Allegheny Commuter Airlines flew flights to Philadelphia and New York, until Atlantic City International Airport opened at the former Naval Air Station, fifteen miles away.
The airport was 68 years old and operating smoothly when it saw a dramatic increase in charter flights as the first boardwalk casino opened in 1978, less than five miles away. Four engine airplanes carrying 40 passengers were shoe-horned onto the 2,948 foot runway by Resorts International, and in one year (2001) Bader saw 10,683 takeoffs and landings. In 1986 Atlantic City received a grant for improvements from the FAA, along with an obligation to operate the airport for 20 years. But only four years later in 1990, the city appealed to U. S. Senator Frank Lautenberg for legislation that would remove that grant obligation so that the airport could be closed due to ‘unsafe levels of air traffic.’ Others say that the land had become too valuable and a proposal to build 4000 time share condominiums on the airport’s 143 acres was the reason, but in any event Lautenberg’s legislation failed and Bader Field remained opened, even as the city stopped properly maintaining the facilities.
Then in 1996, without consulting the FAA, the city began constructing Sandcastle Stadium near Runway 29/11 on the airport property. A court battle ensued, but after a settlement the stadium opened in 1998. By 2006 less than a dozen aircraft were based at Bader Field, and transient airplanes accounted for nearly all of the air traffic there.
On May 15, 2005 a Cessna Citation jet bound for the casinos attempted to land at Bader with a 10 knot tailwind. The jet overran the end of the runway and splashed into the Intracoastal Waterway. All aboard were rescued by a passing boater, but the jet’s right engine was never shut down, and the Citation’s wet and wild gyrations after all hands abandoned ship were caught on camera. The accident is still a popular video on You Tube.
It’s too late to save Bader Field, which Atlantic City closed as soon as the grant assurances expired, ninety-six years after it opened. But a Casino is being built a few miles away from my home airport, and many of the pilots and aircraft owners here fear that our community airport could repeat Bader’s sad history if we don’t learn from it. Unfortunately, there are some futurists here in Taunton who espouse only tremendous benefits and opportunities from ‘the whole new era’ of the casino. Some of them seem to be putting personal gain ahead of what is best for our airport, for there is certainly money to be made from ‘expansion’ when the gaming industry comes to town.
And to those who say that extending our runway at Taunton to 4,000 feet would never allow jets into our little airport, please consider that after the jet crash at Bader Field, the NTSB found an airport diagram on the control yoke directly in front of the pilot which read “airport closed to jet traffic.”
Proving once again that if you build it they will come.