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US Airport Privatization

Now, I’m not a lawyer, but I got the gist of this post. A couple disappointing things I caught here:

  1. The FAA can bar the closure of a “federally obligated” airport. I’ve heard commentary on this elsewhere and it basically boils down to a bureaucratic method to ensure federal grants aren’t being claimed by airports that then get closed. Accepting FAA money essentially locks a proprietor into perpetual operations of their airport regardless of solvency. A non-viable general aviation airport will keep seeking federal funds because it needs the money. It sounds like a horribly inefficient vicious circle of propping up a failed airport.
  2. The pilot privatization program permits a “reasonable rate of return.” Who determines what is reasonable? Are we trying to keep airports on the federal government doles? Why not exorbitant rates of return so that they can self-fund? Shouldn’t that be the goal?
  3. Looking at the application process its clear that you will need special grant writers and lawyers to help you navigate this process if you want to privatize. This appears to be an application process written by lawyers for lawyers. Airport operators, engineers, and finance folks should be the ones creating these processes to favor the airports who want to apply.


Chicago Midway is one of the pilot program applicants. I’m curious to see where that leads.

Indianapolis tried to transfer operations at Indianapolis International Airport to a private operator, BAA. Now, BAA knows a thing or two about operating airports. They should… they operate London Heathrow among many others. Yet they couldn’t make IND work. It seemed, from my limited observation, that the airport authority wouldn’t let BAA truly operate privately but placed too many government-sector restrictions on their business. I can’t help but think that FAA is similarly half-committed to their pilot privatization program.

According to my limited understanding, in New Zealand every airport has to support itself. Many smaller airports in New Zealand operate their airfield at a loss (sound familiar) but fund everything by developing their other land for commercial use.

Why not let private operators/owners come in, take over the airport, and do what they must to ensure continued operations and service? Why can’t solvency and self-sufficiency be the goal?

Incidentally, I recommend the blog I’ve linked to, Aviation and Airport Development News. It has good information from time to time.

*Followup – Note that while many airports in New Zealand are required to be self-supporting, with no governmental money whatsoever, smaller General Aviation airports do rely on local taxes (or “rates” as the Kiwi’s call them).  A good example of a small, self-supported airport in New Zealand is Wellington International.