Privatization Plan For California Airport Faces Obstacles

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Although a new commercial airport due to open soon in Branson, Mo., will be privately run, and hundreds of small GA airfields are operated by private owners, efforts to convert existing government-run airports in the U.S. to private management have met resistance. Since 1997, only six airport operators have applied to an FAA program to privatize airports, and five terminated or withdrew their requests, the Los Angeles Times reported this week. Only a plan to privatize Midway Airport, near Chicago, remains in play. Now, local officials in Long Beach, Calif., are discussing a plan to privatize their municipal airport, but the plan is controversial. "I don't see this as a very attractive target for a takeover by private companies," Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga told the Times. "The airport is close to residential areas, and there's a grandfathered noise ordinance that would be of concern ... I don't know how the airport will be profitable unless there is expansion." And expansion is problematic, since the field is surrounded by densely settled, affluent neighborhoods.

Privatization is common in Canada, Europe and Asia, the Times reports. More than 50 airports worldwide have privatized their operations, management or ownership since 1987.

Branson Airport is scheduled to open in May, with a single 7,140-foot runway and a control tower staffed by FAA contract personnel. The project cost $155 million and the owners expect 500,000 passengers per year, growing to 1.5 million within five years. The airport is a 10-minute drive from downtown Branson, a popular tourist destination.