Bader Field Airport: History and $3B Revival

Airports · 5 min read · Nov 25, 2022
bader field

Recently, DEEM enterprise tabled a 2.7 billion USD to turn the historical yet vacant Bader Field into a haven for car lovers, taking the Atlantic City press by storm. The proposal has sparked interest in how the first-ever location to be called an airport remains vacant today.

This article gives insights into Bader Field, its massive contribution to aviation, and how it ended up being vacant.

Overview of Bader Field

Bader Field is an Atlantic City Municipal Airport, the first municipal airport in the U.S. for airplanes and seaplanes in fact. The site is a 142-acre land surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on three sides. Currently, this site is considered one of the most valuable pieces of land on the East Coast.

However, Bader Field is currently vacant, with the Atlantic City authorities permanently closing the municipal airport in 2006. Since its closure, Bader Field has become part of the state-run Tourism District that was established by the NJ law. 

Abandoned runway at Bader Field airport.
Image source: http://www.airfields-freeman.com/nj/Airfields_NJ_AtlanticCity.htm

Contribution to aviation

Bader Field is highly respectable in aviation. The airfield, which opened in 1910, played an important role in modeling aviation to become what it currently is. Below are some notable mentions

  1. Introduction of powered flight: Bader Field contributed to the strides made in powered flight. For instance, Bader Field was the starting point for the first attempt by Walter Wellman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in an airship named America.  
  2. Aviation lexicon: The term airport was first used in a newspaper article in 1919 by Robert Woodhouse when describing Bader Field, the first facility in New Jersey to be dedicated to aircraft.
  3. Bader Field is also associated with luxury travel. All U.S. Presidents from President Theodore Roosevelt to President Gerald Ford flew into Atlantic City through Bader Field. 
Gerald Ford and Betty Ford with the President and First Lady Pat Nixon after President Nixon nominated Ford to be vice president, October 13, 1973.

Bader Field and seaplanes  

Due to its location, Atlantic City was a major vacation destination in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There was a rail line connecting the seashore and Philadelphia. However, getting from New York to Atlantic City was still a major challenge.

To get clients from New York, the Treymore, a premier hotel in Atlantic City, opted to operate a seaplane service between the two cities. Bader Field was the ideal location for the hotel to operate its seaplane service since it was large and surrounded by water, making it suitable to land and secure the seaplanes.

Influence of the prohibition

Noticing that prohibition was about to become law, an influential local politician in Atlantic City saw an opportunity to get alcohol into the country via air. Bader Field was utilized for this endeavor, increasing its value for the people as it made it possible for them to escape prohibition. At the time, the mayor saw it fit for the city to acquire the land and develop.

Bader Field airport in operation in the 1930s.
Image source: http://www.airfields-freeman.com/nj/Airfields_NJ_AtlanticCity.htm

Eastern Airlines

After buying the land, the municipality developed it into an airport, making it one of the essential airports in America. In 1931, three prominent businesspeople, namely Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, and Eddie Rickenbacker, came together and formed Eastern Airlines.

Charles Lindbergh was more famous because he made the first attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air successfully in 1927 with his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis.

Transcontinental flight

As the city officials continued to develop the airport, it attracted more people. In 1933, Bader Field was the departure and arrival point of the first black men to manage a transcontinental flight.

The two men took off from Bader Field and managed to navigate to Los Angeles and back using a map and an altimeter. They successfully returned to Bader Field and were honored with a parade, having fondly named their plane the “Pride of Atlantic City.”

Bader Field airport from aerial view.
Image source: http://www.airfields-freeman.com/nj/Airfields_NJ_AtlanticCity.htm

Civil air patrol

The civil air patrol was also founded at Bader Field. Volunteer members flew patrols from Bader Field across the Atlantic Ocean, searching for German submarines during World War II. As a result of their success, Bader Field was taken over by the military and utilized as a pilot training base for the army corps. At the time of the war, Bader Field got more modernized. By adding paved runways, taxiways, and field lights.

Commercial flight

After World War II, an opportunity arose to use Bader Field for commercial aviation. A number of local businessmen pulled their resources and formed South Jersey Airways, which was then affiliated with Allegheny Airlines. Later on, the airline would become USAir and the more widely known US Airways.

The airline operated from Atlantic City’s Bader Field to the following destinations: Philadelphia International Airport (PIA), John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), LaGuardia Airport (LGA), Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), and Long Island MacArthur Airport (ISP). Legalizing gambling in 1978 in Atlantic City increased air traffic at Bader Field. However, the size of the airport limited the planes that could land there.

Bader Field airport from aerial view.
Image source: Hagley Museum & Library

Last flight

The small runway length limited the size of aircraft that could operate from Bader Field. However, the expansion of the runway was impossible because the airfield was surrounded by water.

By the 1990s, air traffic started to reduce at Bader Field because the Atlantic City International Airport that was large enough to accommodate larger aircraft and more air traffic, which is suitable for passenger service airlines.

The most notable last flight at Bader Field involved a Cessna Citation jet aircraft that overran the runway on landing and ended up in the adjoining Intracoastal Waterway.

A Cessna Citation landing on a cloudy day.

The future of Bader Field

At the beginning of 2022, some hope returned to Bader Field due to a development company called DEEM enterprises who made a $2.7B proposal to revive the plot of land.

The idea was to construct a large number of condos, a technology hub as well as a motorsport facility on the property. The development of the project was to include all the necessary infrastructure such as laying sewage and water systems as well as new well-paying jobs in the automotive industry.

However, while the funds for the revival of Bader Field might have been secured, we are looking at several years if not a decade to see the results of this venture.

Closure

Since the airport was no longer attracting commercial flights as, operations became expensive. The city officials saw the site more valuable when sold to property developers instead of keeping the airport open. Bader Field permanently closed in September 2006.

Since then, notable usage includes the Dave Matthew Band concert in June 2011, the Orion Music+More concert on June 23-24, 2012, and music festivals on June 15-17, 2012. Since June 2012, no other music concerts have occurred at Bader Field.

Currently, the founding location of civil air patrol and other aviation activities in Atlantic City remains a tourist destination under NJ law, awaiting its fate.

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Jaap Brian profile picture
Jaap Brian
A highly passionate aviator, with a solid background in aeronautical engineering. His journey to writing about aviation topics is founded on sharing insights into aviation safety and technical aircraft performance – a journey that is 6+ years and counting.

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