PATH's New Stewart Lease Calls Airport Privatization into Doubt

The larger question of the Stewart deal, though, is what this means for airport privatization in the U.S. In general, the FAA is against it, primarily because it wants all the money made at an airport to stay at the airport.

Leasing the airport may prove more difficult. Last weekend, Crain's Chicago Business reported that congressional Democrats, who now run the House Subcommittee on Aviation, may want to reconsider this whole airport privatization thing.

The reason: security concerns should the successful bidders not hail from the U.S. This is the same concern that scuttled the plan to let Dubai Ports World run several U.S. seaports.

This raises the bar to the future privatization of airports significantly. It happens that most of the companies involved in the field are foreign-owned. All of the three asset sales that have closed successfully -- the Chicago Skyway, the Indiana Toll Road and the Pocahontas Parkway in Virginia -- were won by non-U.S. companies, the first two by an Australian-Spanish group, Pocahontas by an Australian firm.

Privatization has been successful in Europe. Americans are proving far more reluctant to back sales of public assets. The people who want to get these deals done are going to have to work a little harder to convince the public that it's really in their best interests to part with toll roads, airports, lotteries and the rest of it.

Joe Mysak is a Bloomberg News columnist.

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