Chicago asks for extension on Midway privatisation

The city has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to extend Midway Airport's slot in the Pilot Privatisation Programme, which allows up to 5 US airports to pursue privatisation. But Chicago may not plan to pursue a deal in the near-term.

Chicago has asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for an extension to hold Midway Airport’s slot in the FAA Pilot Privatisation Programme.

Chicago faced a deadline of July 31 by which the city had to submit additional information to the FAA on the application to consider privatising Midway, which holds the only spot for a large-hub airport in the programme.  The programme began in 1997, and allows up to five US airports to consider selling or leasing their operations to the private sector.

Chicago first applied for Midway to be part of the program in 2006, according to the FAA website. A 2008 attempt at privatization ultimately did not succeed because the winning bidder could not secure the financing needed to meet the $2.5 billion payment for the airport.

Tarrah Cooper, spokesperson for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, confirmed that the city has filed for an extension, but said that the Emanuel has “no immediate plans to resurrect this deal in the short-term”. She emphasised that Emanuel, who took office earlier this year, has reservations about the potential privatisation of Midway, and said that the city would have to establish an “open process” in order to consider a deal.

“On Midway in particular, taxpayers have every right to be skeptical about the return they will get given the recent experience they have had,” Cooper wrote in an email. She said she was referring particularly to the city’s parking meters, which Chicago leased to a Morgan Stanley-led group in 2009.

While Chicago has requested the extension for the Midway application, it is not clear if the FAA has approved it. An impasse over funding for the FAA resulted in a partial shutdown of the agency beginning in late July, and the FAA said in a statement that the employees who would review and approve the application are some of the 4,000 furloughed workers.

The agency cannot act on the application until Congress reauthorizes funding for the FAA, according to a statement.  But late yesterday, Congressional leaders announced that they had come to an agreement on extending FAA funding through September, but FAA employees have not yet returned to work, according to an agency spokesperson.

Other airports active in the pilot privatisation programme include the Luís Muñoz Marín International Airport, near San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rico Public-Private Partnerships Authority issued a request for qualifications for the airport privatisation last month.