Privatize Gwinnett’s Airport? Sounds Good To Me.

Gwinnett County is considering privatizing it’s airport, Briscoe Field. A private firm, Propeller Investment has approached the County Commission about Briscoe and the County is listening. Brett Smith of Propeller Investments spoke with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Gwinnett Daily Post about his firms plan to acquire the airport and what it might mean for Gwinnett.

From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

LAWRENCEVILLE — A plan to privatize Gwinnett’s airport could bring more than $1 billion in economic impact and 20,000 jobs in the next decade.

Brett Smith, chief investment officer of Propeller Investments, said the Atlanta area is ripe for a second commercial airport, and the 508-acre Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville is the best place for the venture.

County officials have said they will study privatizing the facility, including having public hearings on the matter. If officials choose to sell or rent the airport, the private partner will be chosen through a public bidding process, but Propeller is the firm that began talks on the project.

Smith said he has worked on research for a second commercial airport for two years.

“The county has a real opportunity here, and they need to act on it,” he said, adding that the county could gain both property and sales tax dollars and reduce the county’s liabilities and overhead through the venture.

But he said his vision is not to create a second Hartsfield — the mega-airport in Atlanta that has the most passengers in the world.

“People who are (at Briscoe) today, don’t worry,” he said, adding that the average number of takeoffs at the airport would only increase from 14 to 18 an hour, still half the amount that take off from Peachtree-DeKalb Airport. “It’s only going to get better for them.”

As a general aviation pilot himself, he said the private jets and single-engine Cessnas would continue at the airport, and his company isn’t interested in raising their rental fees.

Instead, the money would come from any small commercial airlines who host flights to places like New York, Boston, Miami, Dallas and Denver.

He plans to model the facility after White Plains Airport in Westchester County, New York.

Of course there are naysayers as the AJC reports. Mike Boyd, an avation consultant, wonders why anyone would ever consider doing business with an airport other than Hartsfield-Jackson.

Privatizing the airport is one thing, said aviation consultant Mike Boyd.

“But in terms of doing it and being able to attract scheduled passenger commercial service — an Elvis sighting is more likely,” Boyd said. “What airline is going to go to a secondary airport when it’s easy to get to Hartsfield-Jackson and you can go anywhere in the world from Hartsfield-Jackson?”

Smith said he has spoken with some “big players” among air carriers but declined to identify them. Propeller’s Web site,, features a bold rendering on its home page that appears to include airplanes from both Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines on the tarmac at Briscoe.

A Delta spokesman said Monday the airline has no involvement with any changes at Briscoe and would have no further comment; Southwest did not respond to requests for comment.

Boyd forgets that for people who live north of the city, Hartsfield-Jackson is not that convenient. Boyd also forgets that many cities with airports as busy as Atlanta’s have secondary airports. In addition, as Smith points out, Propeller does not plan for Briscoe to be a “reliver” airport for Harstfield-Jackson, with plans for only 10 gates. Instead, the air traffic would come from…

…small commercial airlines who host flights to places like New York, Boston, Miami, Dallas and Denver.

He plans to model the facility after White Plains Airport in Westchester County, New York.

I must disclose that I’ve met with Brett Smith of Propeller about this plan. He wanted to give me a glimpse of the plan and get my opinion. To be sure, the devil is in the details but this seems like a great opportunity for Gwinnett. The economic impact could be huge. As mentioned above, Propeller estimates 20,000 jobs and a $1 billion impact on Gwinnett and the surrounding counties. Even if they’re off by half it’s still a huge impact on a county that quite frankly needs to diversify it’s economic base. Currently, the airport currently is not allowed to make a profit. If it does, it cannot be distributed back into the general fund of the county by law (this is an agreement between the FAA and all public airports). Privatization allows the airport to become profitable. So yes, I’m all for it.

From what I understand, the Gwinnett County Commission will take the matter up today. Application must be made to the FAA in order for the County consider airport privatization. Hopefully the Commission will take that step.

Propeller Investments has put up a website with pictures and other information.


  1. B Balz says:

    I like it, keeps pressure off PDK to go to regularly scheduled flights.

    Please do come to the newly re-opened 57th Fighter Group Restaurant owned by the Epps aviation folks. It is hoot!

  2. AthensRepublican says:

    I flew out of White Plains last Friday and like that airport mainly because it is easy to get in and out of. Only problem is that the waiting area is like a jammed pack cattle call when you are trying to find where to board your plane. I would consider using Briscoe as it would be easier to get to from the Athens area.

  3. benevolus says:


    “Federal laws stipulates that a government that owns an airport… may not remove any of the profits from the operation of the airport for use in any other way. ”

    “If the airport is privatized, the funds generated from the airport that the County receives may be used in any way Gwinnett County sees fit.”

    Why don’t we just fix that FAA rule?

  4. Ken Stepp says:

    Wow. This would be a boom move for Gwinnett unless I’m missing something. They would do the things “businesses” do to be better and make a profit ,they would pay taxes ,they would experience real growth and do some hiring. If the airport was privately ran and employed or led to the employment of that many people (including residuals) then this is a no brainer. It may even keep the BOC from raising taxes next year. Of course now that they have gotten use to it that would be a stretch. (sorry, had to take my shot)

  5. Privatizing this airport would have many benefits for Gwinnett and the entire region. This idea would have significant job creation benefits and would bring revenue to the county — without raising taxes. And It would reduce the size of government.

    It would also be a major incentive for companies looking to relocate to Georgia.

    • Elin is Hot says:

      Nothing ever reduces the size of government. It’s like water…the government saved finds a new purpose somewhere else in government.

  6. Briscoe is about about the same distance from my house as Hartsfield is from Buckhead. So long as the flight paths go over the eastside yokels out in Dacula, rather than the westside suburbanites in Berkeley Lake and John’s Creek, then my “NIMBY-meter” stays in the green zone.

    Still, I’d like to hear SOME counterpoint to that “” website, because the lobbyist-speak sounds too good to be true. It makes my spidey-sense when a new idea springs up out of nowhere with a slick marketing campaign already lined up behind it.

    • debbie0040 says:

      I live in Dacula and planes fly over our area every day now. They are high enough it does not bother me. A 737 is actually quiter than some of the aircraft that currently fly over. We are just talking about 3 flights more per hour than they have now. Traffic would also be restricted after 11pm.
      I have to fly into the Carlsbad, CA airport on business from time to time. This Briscoe expansion would be similar to this airport, exept the Carlsbad airport is owned by San Diego County. The airport is in an upscale area with very high property values.

      I think this is a great idea if the BOC are smart enough to move on it before they consider Kennesaw’s airport… It would provided relief to the tax payer and 316 would become eligible for federal funds to expand and help prevent the congestion. It would also create jobs…

  7. HankRearden says:

    Let’s see:

    Privatizing the Airport vs. Govt. Control = Good

    Less Taxes for the individual due to increase in business taxes = Good (in principle, chances of getting the commission to lower taxes = 0.0% but at least they will have excuses for raising taxes.)

    Bring more business to Geogia = Good

    Maybe I can fly somewhere without driving to Atlanta = Real Good

    Sounds like a good idea.

    I can’t wait to see what idiot elected official tries to stop it!!

    • I’m pretty sure this sort of reaction is exactly why the website was written to make every other word be “privatize”. That’s a Holy word in the red state crowd, which tends to head off questions… such as:

      (1) Where exactly are 20,000 jobs and $1 billion dollars coming from… if nobody’s raising fees, and hourly flights are only increasing from 14 to 18?

      (2) Which airlines would actually service it… when Delta just announced a $1.1 billion loss this morning, airlines are cutting out smaller airports right and left, and everyone contacted has said only “no comment” thus far?

      (3) The big question: how much taxpayer “investment” would be necessary under a public/private “partnership”? The website only hints at this vaguely, saying that “many” of the access points would paid for “largely” through State and Federal funds. What infrastructure would depend on local taxes and SPLOST’s? Would subsidies of some kind be needed at the start, and/or on an ongoing basis? When it comes to airports and sports stadiums, “private” has a funny way of turning “public” in a hurry.

      Like I said earlier… keep jets from flying low-altitude over the money neighborhoods in Duluth, Berkeley Lake, and John’s Creek… and I’m very happy to give it a full and positive hearing. However, I trust the Gwinnett County government about as far as I can throw it when it comes to public/private “partnerships”. I’m sure there are many more shoes to drop on this one, so I wouldn’t shut my brain off just yet simply because the right buzzwords are being used.

      • Ken in Eastman says:

        (2) Which airlines would actually service it . . .

        Piedmont Aviation? Wait, sorry, wrong decade!

        Seriously though, maybe Southwest Airlines?

        • AthensRepublican says:

          We used to have flights out of Athens on U.S. Air until last year. Little puddle jumper that would fly you to Charlotte. Free parking, arrive 15 mins before takeoff. Sweet and easy. Now I have to drive to Hartsfield several times a month.

    • benevolus says:

      Increased business taxes? OK, let’s insist:
      They don’t get a property tax break,
      Or a utility break,
      Or a unemployment tax break

      Let’s insist:
      They can’t turn the property into another mall if they want to.
      Profits beyond a certain amount are returned to the county
      End of year bonuses are capped so they can’t avoid showing a profit

      And it would be nice to find a way for their goal to be to serve the county rather than their shareholders.

  8. Mad Dog says:

    Always love the privatize crowd. Not going to make fun of them today.

    Hanks says the individual will pay less taxes because of increases in business taxes. Just need one of our residence market theorists to claim that all business taxes are passed onto individuals.

    But Hank is prolly right about the Commission not lowering taxes, if it could.

    What business would it bring to Georgia that isn’t already here? I never get an answer on that. Especially if I frame it in the larger sense. Isn’t just a transfer of business from one location to another and not an increase in economic production? It gets much worse if government funds the privatizing by a bond. It’s not even a matter of moving business locations but a matter of borrowing from the future.

    Maybe Hank can fly somewhere without Delta. Libertarians already do.
    “take a trip and never leave the barn. My brother flew up on the windmill. I had to fly up there and get him down. Sitting on the sack of seed.”

    Which idiot elected official will try to stop it? Third one on the left, something like infinity in a circle.

    Nice thread, tho.

    • Thanks for attacking libertarians without any sort of just cause. If all libertarians do drugs or are crazy then I guess we should assume that all Republicans cheat on their wives.

      • Mad Dog says:

        We are assuming All Elected Republican males in leadership/power positions cheat on their spouses, the voters, and on their lovers.

        What you assume to be an attack might be envy. I never was able to fly up on the windmill. I just don’t see the weed as all that evil when compared to tobacco or power tripping Republicans.

        Sorry you took it that way.

  9. Dare I imagine the traffic apocalypse this would cause on 316?

    And Steve Perkins showed us where the politician who opposes it will come from – some subdivision unhappy with the idea of (more) planes flying over their house.

    • ByteMe says:

      There’s revenue from “running the airport” — baggage handling machinery and people, security, gates, flight tower — and revenue from the shops and rental car area, which are not really part of “running the airport”. Pretty sure the lease money goes back to the city.

      • benevolus says:

        And that actually makes sense. Running an airport is a critical, high risk, high security operation. You should be careful and not risk safety or security in order to gain a little more profit taking.

        And so the developer is being a bit deceptive here; there are revenue streams available to the Gwinnett County government if they choose to exploit it.

        • ByteMe says:

          But only if they can get flight path clearance from the FAA for the number of flights that would make it profitable. Without enough people coming through the gates, there’s not going to be a reason to have shops or high-$$ leases.

          • Elin is Hot says:

            there’s not going to be a reason to have shops or high-$$ leases.

            Not even for kickbacks to the electeds?

  10. Game Fan says:

    One problem is it doesn’t pay as well to be the “stick in the mud” with these public/private partnership schemes. But you’re right. “Privatizing” or “public/private partnerships” is like magical ferry dust for the insiders.

  11. Travis.Bowden says:

    Several very eloquent posts above me here, but I want to voice what a good idea I feel this is. The county could use the infusion of funds brought on by privatization and it brings some much-needed prestige in what could charitably be called troubled economic and political times.

    • Game Fan says:

      So how much is the private firm paying for the airport? What, you mean it’s more complex than that? SURPRISE SURPRISE SURPRISE says Gomer Pyle.

    • Don’t mean to poo-poo the idea at all… it could be a tremendously wonderful thing! It’s just that on a blog, people have a tendency toward snap judgments… instantly taking positions on something being terrific or horrible after having read only a few sentences about it. I’m merely laying out the kind of gaps I need to see filled in before I’d be comfortable taking a position either way. First and foremost, what kind of funds would be infused in both directions?

      • Game Fan says:

        Yeah, how about some fine print? I’m not being too cagey here in my views however since I’m ALWAYS opposed to new schemes and generally opposed to public/private partnerships. This stuff has many facets too. But speaking of public/private partnerships and outsourcing, who would they use for airport security, Blackwater?

  12. Icarus says:

    For those wondering who would stand in the way of such a no brainer, I give you two words:

    Delta Airlines

    This will not happen without their approval. And I would be willing to be they will prefer to keep their base of operations at Hartsfield-Jackson.

    No sense dividing their base and increase costs to operate in two places for the same customer.

    And they certainly won’t want to give away their high income northside travelers to Southwest or any other airline.

  13. South Fulton Guy says:

    Shirley Franklin thought privatizing the City of Atlanta Water Department was a good idea too….

    • Elin is Hot says:

      It was a good idea. Just got executed wrong. Pretty much like every other Dem idea that has come down the pike.

      • benevolus says:

        Actually, it’s a textbook case of why some things shouldn’t be privatized. A for-profit company, when faced with unanticipated expenses, cuts costs and therefore cuts services. When it comes to delivering WATER, those are unacceptable responses. But you can’t give them an open contract either. Essential services are not good for privatization.

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