Passenger Terminal Today Magazine - January 2022

Most US airports remain public entities. Why has privatization, so popular in Europe, failed to materialize across the Atlantic?

In the autumn of 2016, local politicians in Westchester County, New York, set in motion plans for a long-term lease of the local mixed-use airport to a private equity firm under a Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) privatization program. As the county moved forward with the bidding process, a coalition composed mainly of local environmental activists formed in opposition to the privatization effort.

Westchester County resident Peter Schlactus led the opposition. “Our group’s focus was on maintaining the long-standing county policy of not expanding the airport,” Schlactus says now. “The privatization bid, at its core, seemed to be a way to break the piggy bank of the airport, while almost certainly leading toward medium- and longer-term expansion.”

Nearly all US airports are public entities, owned locally either by the county, city or state. The trend toward privatization in many other parts of the world – most notably Europe – has yet to happen in the USA. For a long time, this was because federal law prohibited it. But in the late 1990s the FAA began a pilot program, now known as the Airport Investment Partnership Program (AIPP), which offered a route to privatization for those airports that were interested in exploring it.

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