Airport Community Meeting
November 28th, 2016
7 PM – 930 PM
On November 28th, the WAA held an airport community meeting in response to Westchester County officials announcing a proposal to lease its airport to an investment firm earlier this month. County Executive Rob Astorino unveiled the $140 million deal for a public-private partnership with Oaktree Capital Management to run the airport for the next 40 years. Although the proposal must still be approved by the Board of Legislators as well as the FAA, the WAA Board of Directors felt that it was a necessity to bring more information to the community. With this in mind, Oaktree Capital Management was eager to further explain the terms of the proposal.
Among 70 attendees, Oaktree explained more about their background in infrastructure capital investing in airports, ports, and rail currently owning 83 ports in the US. They have run the San Juan, Puerto Rico airport for the past five years and also ran the London City Airport in the UK until they recently sold it. The Oaktree team further described the freeing up of $150 million of capital to the County and making HPN better by growing capacity and creating opportunities for economic velocity. It was also mentioned that Oaktree initiated this partnership and that JetBlue backed it.
Many concerns were voiced throughout the meeting. Most alarming being that 80% of the airport includes General Aviation who currently has no representation penned within the proposal. Additional problems include why other airports have fought back against similar proposals and why Oaktree thinks their model will work here at HPN.
Hoping to win the trust of General Aviation, the Oaktree team went on to state that they would be open to put representation of the 80% at the table. Furthermore, they described three committees for possible participation: General Aviation Affairs Committee; General Aviation Technical Committee and General Aviation Operational Committee.
Emmitt McCann, managing partner of Oaktree, also responded that Private/Public business is evolving. He stated that in the past, there were no proper lines of incentives. The project at Stewart Airport did not work because there was no business model and Oaktree has had the benefit of observing this over time. They have talked extensively about the experiences with the San Juan Airport working, comparing and contrasting both projects
Although Oaktree is ultimately in control of decision making as proposed, there are Operational Standards that come directly from the County which they must adhere to or they will be in default of the agreement. An additional standard that Oaktree will be held to is an annual 139 inspection where their compliance determine AIP funds.
Other points that were addressed at the meeting include:
- Mr. McCann went on to say that he thinks Oaktree will work because the current infrastructure is failing and their approach included efficiencies in energy, passenger through put, staffing and capital expenses. They are planning to make investments in the hold room, security, a more efficient and optimized terminal and lower utility costs. They will generate cash flow and have a more efficient procurement process.
- Oaktree plans to honor all current contacts and does not plan to raise rates. They would also like to retain all airport personnel. They feel that this will offer more stability and that they do not wish to hurt General Aviation, they want to make it better. They have no intention of changing the character of the airport.
- Regarding building of new hangars: Oaktree must abide by the existing rules of the County. They also cannot expand airlines at HPN.
- Oaktree will manage the master plan and will work closely with the FAA on this.
- Regarding how Oaktree will make revenue: they responded that their focus will be on non-aeronautical revenue.
- Mr. McCann explained that they will be a Board consisting of six or seven members and would be open to have someone from General/Business Aviation on it in addition to someone from the airlines.
- He also stated if Oaktree takes over, their lease agreement and Operations Standards will be made public.
- In conclusion, Mr. McCann stated that Oaktree has heard several times that there are concerns of new fees to GA tenants, whether through fuel flowage fees or landing fees and concerns of losing the current management who are very well liked for their approach of over and beyond support to keep airport tenants’ businesses successful. He assured the audience that there are no scenarios for new fees and Oaktree’s plan is to employee all current airport staff. He also vowed to support CAN and partner with other non-profit organizations.
- The Oaktree Team offered to stay and discuss any additional individual concerns with anyone interested.