GUEST EDITORIAL. The senior Senator from New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg, showed his true colors as an enemy of general aviation (not to mention a master of political skullduggery) when he recently attached a "rider" to a Senate transportation appropriations bill that would allow Atlantic City's Bader Airport (and Kansas City's Richards-Gebaur) to be closed by releasing those two cities from Federal grant assurance agreements that protect the FAA's investment in publicly owned public use airports. We think pilots everywhere should be outraged, and urge you to contact your congressional representatives about this travesty which could set a disastrous precedent affecting GA airports nationwide.
August 18, 1997
"Oh happy, happy, joy, joy!" we thought to ourselves as we
saw signatures of famous people in the FAA, N.J. Division of Aeronautics,
and the City of Atlantic City on a "memorandum of understanding" about Bader
Airport. The long nightmare was ending. The airport would survive for another
decade. In return for being allowed to proceed with constructing a baseball
stadium on part of the airport property, the City had agreed to provisions
which would benefit Bader and its long suffering users. So far, so good.
The City had agreed to maintain the airport and its approaches, return the
fire station to airport use and replace ripped up ramp and tie down areas.
Further provisions of the agreement would provide funding for airport operations
and maintenance from fair market ground rent for the property underlying
the stadium. An FBO would be permitted to operate the airport and terms of
any FBO lease would not be so horrible that they would go broke in the first
In balance it all seemed like a pretty good deal. If nothing else, the large,
round shape of the stadium would clearly indicate Bader's location. Old Bridge
is co-located with Englishtown drag strip. Andover has its lakes. How bad
could a stadium be if the night lighting is controlled?
Don't Celebrate Yet!
Our joy was short lived. Subsequent events surrounding Bader Airport are
shaking our faith in democracy.
As you may have heard, Sen. Frank Lautenberg has weighed in
on the "shut it down" side of the debate over Bader Airport, joining forces
with Atlantic City Mayor James Whelan, the local politico who lives 200 feet
from the Bader property line. We were tipped off when the senior Senator
from New Jersey attended a June press conference at Bader. Lautenberg suddenly
veered off on a diatribe about how Bader was "unsafe" and should be closed.
He went on to describe an arrival he had suffered through and extrapolated
his experience in a cabin class twin to those of us who fly small aircraft
that are appropriate to Bader's short runways. Lautenberg apparently reasoned
that if he couldn't use Bader, nobody else should either.
MAAC responded to his comments in a letter to his to his office:
We are outraged that you have made a policy of using your position and influence
to compromise the Federal Aviation Administration's authority over public
use airports. We remember all too well that you attempted to close Linden
Airport with a rider attached to a last minute budget bill. We are also mindful
that you have interfered with AIP funding for the improvement of Princeton
Airport. The pilots of New Jersey would be most grateful if you would
stop playing politics with our public use airports. As always, we would
appreciate the courtesy of a reply.
The Senator's reply was predictable. Lautenberg introduced a "rider" attached
to a Senate transportation appropriations bill that effectively allowed the
FAA to release Atlantic City and Kansas City from Federal grant assurance
agreements that protect the FAA's investment in publicly owned public use
airports, opening the door for them to shut down Bader and Richards-Gebaur
We started hearing rumors about this rider right after the Bader press
conference. Those nasty rumors were corroborated by contacts in Washington
who told us that something was going on with the Senate transportation
appropriations bill, and that the measure had Subcommittee Chairman Lautenberg's
name all over it. We called Lautenberg's Washington staff and were told that
there was no such rider. Other aviation advocacy groups were hearing the
same rumors and the Senator's staff continued to deny them. One staffer told
us "You're giving us ideas. If you don't stop pestering us about this, we
will include a rider." Well, either Senator Lautenberg's staff was lying
or the Senator acted on his own without the benefit of staff. After the bill
mark-up session, Lautenberg's staff acted as if they had been blindsided,
The language of the rider as adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee
was clear in its intent. It says that the FAA may exempt Atlantic City and
Kansas City from any "agreements or memorandums of understanding" involving
Bader Airport and Richards-Gebaur.
Perhaps Lautenberg left himself an out with the word "may", but rest assured
that pressure will be brought to bear on FAA to ensure that "may" is read
as "will". The FAA lives in a political world, too, and FAA personnel know
their bread is buttered on Capitol Hill.
What's The Problem With Bader?
Those who are familiar with Bader realize that the only thing
wrong with the airport is Atlantic City's consistent mismanagement of the
facility. Yes, there have been accidents, but many of those unfortunate events
are directly attributable to pilots using the wrong runway. Proper reporting
of wind velocity and direction would alert transient pilots to hazardous
conditions. The presence of a fixed base operator to man the Unicom would
minimize weather related problems, as would an automated weather station
on the field. Airport safety starts with an airport administration that works
to ensure that safe operating conditions prevail.
Bader could be a terrific magnet for the tens of thousands of pilots who
live within a two hour flight of the resort. The City has been actively
discouraging traffic at Bader for the last decade. Despite this harrassment
traffic at Bader has increased dramatically since the Friends of Bader got
out the word that the airport was open for business. On any given fair weather
weekend there are hundreds of aircraft operations and all this activity has
all been based on word of mouth. For more than a year Atlantic Flyer has
been running ads inviting folks to Bader. A budding Young Eagles program
has flown a few dozen local kids and made some fast friends for aviation.
Things have been turning around. But Lautenberg wants to kill a goose that
could lay golden eggs for Atlantic City if given half a chance.
Bader is located in one of the fastest growing urban regions of the State.
Most approaches are over water and away from populated areas. Its location
on a peninsula is far enough away from residential development that it poses
little hazard and aircraft noise is minimized. And it is within walking distance
of many Atlantic City attractions. If Bader closes, however, whatever remains
will be a permanent memorial to Senator Lautenberg's shortsightedness. We
hope he can be made to see the light.
Implications: Far Beyond Bader Field
The really nasty thing about all this, however, is that the Senator's treachery
transcends little Bader. Lautenberg's actions threaten to compromise Federal
authority and the entire system of public use airports. With the language
and methods that may find their way into law, a very dangerous precedent
could be established that threatens the National Plan for Integrated Airport
Systems (Fedspeak for public use airports). If Congress approves this, any
tin pot local politico with a DC connection can point to Lautenberg's rider
as a means to get off the hook to the Feds.
Federal grant assurance agreements protect the FAA's AIP investment in public
transportation resources. My tax dollars have been put into Bader Airport
in Atlantic City and Richards-Gebaur Memorial Airport in Kansas City. I am
not a happy taxpayer when I realize that agreements that protect my public
investment are worthless.
Do you pay taxes? Are you happy?
What To Do?
As always, the only way for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.
Express your sentiments on this immediately to your Congressman. You will
find their addresses below. Be sure to send a copy of all correspondence
to U. S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo who represents Bader's Congressional district.
You might also send a copy along to Senator Lautenberg so he knows he has
struck a chord.
Also send letter copies to Pilots Against Lautenberg at Box 61, Green Village,
NJ 07935 and receive a beautiful (free) bumper sticker put out by PAL.
Encourage the FAA to stand firm on Bader. Your money was invested there in
good faith. Those who have no concept of a good faith bargain are attempting
to take your airports away from you. The Eastern Region FAA Airports Division
has earned our complete respect for defending the situation. It must be very
difficult for them to see their work and authority undercut like this.
Because the State of New Jersey is party to the Bader Airport memorandum
of understanding, encourage the Division of Aeronautics to ensure that its
provisions are carried out. The Division has spent countless man days in
making sure that Bader is safe. Division personnel have been quietly and
competently policing Bader for the past few years. We applaud the commitment
shown by the Division in this. The mere presence of State officials has probably
prevented some really bad stuff from happening.
Who To Contact
Following are the mailing addresses and phone numbers for the New Jersey
delegation to the House of Representatives. Note that all are Washington
DC 20515. Be sure to copy Frank
Hon. Frank LoBiondo, 222 Cannon HOB, 202-225-6572
Hon. Robert Andrews, 2439 Rayburn HOB 202-225-6501
Hon. Bob Franks, 225 Cannon HOB 202-225-5361
Hon. Rodney Frelinghuysen, 228 Cannon HOB 201-225-5034
Hon. Robert Menendez, 405 Cannon HOB 202-225-7919
Hon. Frank Pallone, 420 Cannon HOB 202-225-4671
Hon. Michael Pappas, 1710 Longworth HOB 202-225-5801
Hon. William Pascrell, 1722 Longworth HOB 202-225-5751
Hon. Donald Payne, 2244 Rayburn HOB 202-225-3436
Hon. Steve Rothman, 1607 Longworth HOB 202-225-5061
Hon. Marge Roukema, 2469 Rayburn HOB 202-225-4465
Hon. James Saxton, 324 Cannon HOB 202-225-4765
Hon. Chris Smith, 2370 Rayburn HOB 202-225-3765
The New Jersey Senate delegation includes: