“We have had a number of misunderstandings about [airport privatization],” he said. “We do not know whether privatization or commercialization of Briscoe airport is in the best interests of Gwinnett County. However, we have enough information to think studying the concept is the right thing to do.”
Bannister said the process could take several years.
Tuesday’s action follows several months of meetings with private firms interested in taking over operations. One company, Propeller Investments of New York, has unveiled plans to build a terminal with 10 gates to support about 20 commercial flights daily.
Brett Smith, Propeller’s managing director, said his company’s plans could pour millions into the local economy. “We’re pleased the county is moving forward with this initiative that is so important to Gwinnett and metro Atlanta,” he said Tuesday.
District 3 Commissioner Kevin Kenerly, who represents residents in the airport area, said he has not received any emails or phone calls concerning privatization. But, he added, he expects the matter to gain steam as a campaign issue this fall.
Early sentiment from citizens’ groups showed strong support of the proposal. However, several representatives of a private pilots’ organization turned out Tuesday to oppose the move.
“I am diametrically opposed to it,” said Duane Huff of Lawrenceville, a member of the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. “I think it will very much hinder the general aviation population of Gwinnett County airport.”
Established in 1997, the federal Airport Privatization Pilot Program allows local governments to sell or lease their airports to private firms without incurring certain penalties. It provides that federal grants used to construct and upgrade the airport would not have to be repaid. Briscoe has taken in $34.3 million in such grants since 1973.
The FAA will allow up to seven public airports into the program. In the 13 years the program has existed, eight airports have made application. Five have dropped out.