The Issue Is Privatization

Sept. 5, 2014

As cities and counties (airport sponsors) face tough economic challenges, the topic of privatization of U.S. airports has resurfaced ...

On page 28, long-time airport director turned consultant Scott Fuller offers some perspective on the privatization debate. I asked Scott to comment on the FAA pilot program on privatization overall, as he was directly involved with the proposed privatization effort at New Orleans Lakefront, which after years of effort failed.

On the FAA pilot program Fuller says, “One of the problems with the pilot privatization program is a lack of memory.

“The Surplus Properties Act of 1944 transferred and/or returned title to most DOD-improved airports to host communities, in agreement that they be operated in perpetuity as an airport. Over the next 20 years, due to strapped community budgets, a significant number of facilities had become in such disrepair for lack of attention or funds as to jeopardize the safety and continued growth of our aviation system and commerce.

“To solve this issue, Congress came up with a plan to tax users of the system and then return those funds to communities to salvage and/or improve their airport facilities. A revision was made that ‘funds generated from the public would go to public interest’ and not be diverted to any private party benefit. This was pounded into airport managers’ heads by FAA for decades until Congress came back with a plan to allow private parties to own airports.

“The response was to cut FAA participation to any privately owned airports to approximately half of that of public airports, but continue to collect 100 percent of the fees. The second thing was to come up with a plan and program that could address every possible threat or situation and address how it would be dealt with.  Can’t be done. That’s why airport managers exist — to address unforeseen issues that come up.

“There is a private business adage, ‘Time kills all deals.’ The FAA pilot program is designed to be a 90-day process, but what we’ve seen in practice is three to five years. In that time we have elections, new appointments, and are in a constant state of starting anew.”

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Finally ... Ted Bushelman, the PR/marketing director at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport for some 40-plus years, passed away recently. He was well recognized as one of the masters of his craft — a ‘hot seat’ job at many airports — to the point that ACI-NA presents an award each year in his name. The first person to get the award? Ted Bushelman, of course.

Thanks for reading.