A.C., Phila. airports still looking to land flight-diversion agreement

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Atlantic City International Airport operators say they are continuing to talk with their counterparts in Philadelphia regarding a proposal they say would benefit travelers at both facilities.

The proposal would have some flights that now use an overloaded Philadelphia International Airport instead use Atlantic City International, something that might help improve Philadelphia's woeful on-time departure and arrival record and make Atlantic City International a bigger draw for travelers.

Those talks have gone on for years, and remain "very much an ongoing effort," said Kris Kolluri, chairman of the South Jersey Transportation Authority, or SJTA, which operates Atlantic City International.

One of the keys is to make the agreement noncompetitive, as airports do not like to lose business, he said. That could be done through the appropriate marketing plan, he said.

Another key part of the plan is to make Atlantic City's casinos more involved with air travel in and out of Atlantic City International, Kolluri said.

"Ultimately, we are going to rely on the casino industry section to help us succeed," he said. "They just have to hook up with an airline operator that will service the needs of their customers."

Philadelphia's outdated airport is one of the nation's worst for departure delays and on-time arrivals.

Through September, 68 percent of departures were on time in Philadelphia, better only than New York City's JFK International, Chicago's O'Hare International and Liberty International in Newark. Fewer than two-thirds of arrivals were on time in Philadelphia during that period.

Nationwide, the airline industry suffered its worst on-time performance in 13 years through September. Over that period, the nation's 20 largest carriers reported that nearly a quarter of all flights arrived late, the most since the industry started keeping track in 1995.

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, has deemed Philadelphia a "pacing" airport that, because it sits in the middle of the busy East Coast air corridor, causes delays nationwide. It is debating how to fix the problem at the airport, which last year ranked 16th in the nation by passenger volume but is consistently near the bottom of the 32 largest airports in on-time performance.

The SJTA began its push to bring some of Philadelphia International's flights to its airport here several years ago.

The SJTA says its updated runways can handle the largest commercial flights. They also note millions of dollars worth of completed and ongoing improvements at the facility, including an updated terminal and under-construction parking garage.

Kolluri said Atlantic City International is expected to handle 1.2 million passengers this year, a figure the FAA did not expect the facility to reach for another 18 years.

"Ultimately, the airlines themselves are going to see that there's value in utilizing these kinds of airports," he said, referring to Atlantic City International.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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