Georgia county seeks bidders for airport

But the bidding for the Gwinnett County Airport, initiated by an unsolicited privatisation discussion last year, is just the beginning of a long process that is not guaranteed to result in a privatisation of the Northeast Georgia airport. Three other airports are currently going through a similar privatisation process in the US.

An approach from a private investor has now culminated in the beginning of a bidding process for an airport in Northeast Georgia, where Gwinnet County officials are considering the privatisation of their county’s namesake Gwinnett County Airport.

On 8 July the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners issued a formal request for qualifications for firms interested in a public-private partnership to operate, develop and maintain the airport.

The request, with responses due 16 August, comes after a private equity firm called Propeller Investments approached county officials last year with the idea of privatising the airport, also known as Briscoe Field. Propeller even set up a website,, as a way to drum up support for its proposal.

Propeller did not make the county a formal offer, but “that’s what got us interested in looking into the privatisation process,” explained Brian Allen, director of the Gwinnett County Department of Transportation.

Since then, the county has filed a preliminary application for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Pilot Privatisation Programme. The programme is the government’s regulatory process for privatising US airports and is limited to only five slots. In May, the FAA granted Gwinnett County the fourth of those five slots.

The county stressed in a June fact sheet about the process that its selection into the pilot programme “does not commit the county to proceed with a final application” for privatisation, which would be filed once the county’s selection of a private partner is complete.

A request for private partner proposals and potential approval by the county’s board of commissioners is targeted for later this year.

The fact sheet also notes that Gwinnett County is exploring privatisation of the airport because the county is looking for ways to “identify significant new revenue sources through efficiencies, user fees, and the ‘best use’ of assets”.

The airport consists of a single 6,021-foot-long by 100-foot-wide runway capable of handling all light general aviation and most corporate jet aircraft, according to its website. It had 83,458 aircraft operations and had 236 aircraft were based at the airport as of the 12 months ending March 2009, according to FAA data.

Besides Gwinnett County, three other US airports are in various stages of going through the FAA pilot privatization process.

Chicago’s Midway Airport had a privatisation process fall apart last year after the winning bidder couldn’t close on the $2.5 billion it had offered for a concession of the airport. But it has repeatedly indicatedthat  it is interested in re-bidding the airport. The city has until 31 July to submit a new timetable to the FAA for completing the process.

In September 2009, the FAA accepted a preliminary application from the city of New Orleans’ to privatise its Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. New Orleans is now in the process of seeking a private operator for the airport.

And in December 2009, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport of San Juan, Puerto Rico was accepted for the pilot privatisation programme. Puerto Rico authorities are now preparing to begin a search for a private partner for the airport.