Thursday, April 18, 2013

Will Airport Become A Private Fiefdom?

Agriculture Companies Want Public Airport For Private Gain?
Never Ending Expensive Saga - Will Airport Eventually Be Turned Over To U.S. Sugar Interests?

LABELLE, FL. -- The Hendry County commissioners in September 2012  voted 4-0 to go ahead with spending more money for legal work on the possibility of turning over the Airglades Airport in central Hendry county to the private interests of U.S. Sugar, Joe Hilliard, and a principal of a new company originally formed to buy the airport property, Florida Cargo Fresh, Inc.

In April 2013 the County commissioners again committed their support to the proposal.

As reported here two years ago Florida Cargo Fresh originally sought to buy or lease the airport and has a dubious success history among it's officers.

Florida Cargo Fresh Inc. was named as the "secret" company a handful of county officials and the Hendry Economic Development Office had been talking with, negotiating the sale of the multi-million dollar assets of one of Hendry county's two public airports.

What's Going On?

Congress established FAA's Airport Privatization Pilot Program to explore privatization as a means of generating access to various sources of private capital for airport improvement and development. Under the program private companies may own, manage, lease and develop public airports. The idea behind the program is to improve and develop airport properties using private capital.

The 2012 Reauthorization Act increased the number of airports than can participate from five to 10. The Act authorized the FAA to permit up to 10 public airport sponsors to sell or lease an airport with certain restrictions and to exempt the sponsor from certain federal requirements that could otherwise make privatization impractical. 

The airport owner or lease holder may be exempt from repayment of federal grants, return of property acquired with federal assistance, and the use of proceeds from the airport’s sale or lease to be used exclusively for airport purposes. 

In June 2011, County Attorney Mark F. Lapp (and now acting Hendry County Manager) requested an opinion from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on selling the airport. Bondi said the county would have to have competitive bidding as opposed to just agreeing to sell to one party. She indicated other problems including any sale would have to be after the county determined the property was no longer needed for aviation purposes.

(Click for link to Attorney General's Legal Opinion)

The FAA pilot program began in September 1997. So far, no airports have received been sold to private interests, although Chicago Midway Airport had a preliminary application approved in January 2013, having originally applies in 2006, and Hendry's Airglades' preliminary application was approved October 2010. Luis Munoz Marin International in Puerto Rico had a final application approved by the FAA in February 2013.

New York's Stewart International was the first commercial service airport to participate in the FAA's privatization program from March 2000 to October 2007. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey now operates the airport.

As of June 2012, there were three active applications in the program, six other airports applied but have snce withdrawn or been terminated from the application process:
Chicago Midway International Airport
Luís Muñoz Marín International Airport
Hendry County Airglades Airport

See all Southwest Florida Online's story coverage of the Airglades Airport

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