On April 12, board members of the Westchester Aviation Association (WAA) traveled to Washington DC to meet with officials of the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) to discuss the recently proposed plan to privatize the operation of Westchester County Airport. WAA Chairman Milt Hobbs, along with board members Sal Lagonia and Eric Faulkner were joined by Alex Gertsen (NBAA’s Director of Airports and Ground Infrastructure) and Dean Saucier (NBAA’s Northeast Regional Representative). Collectively, they voiced concern over the lack of general aviation’s participation in the privatization plan for the airport and community involvement in the process.
The meeting was led by Kevin Willis, the FAA’s Director of Airport Compliance and Management Analysis, and included several members of the FAA and DOT staff. Mr. Willis began by giving an excellent briefing on the FAA’s Airport Privatization Pilot Program, which included origins of the program development, its purpose and history, and concluded with the specifics of the HPN program. The FAA Airport Privatization Pilot Program was developed as a tool to help distressed airports expand, improve infrastructure and attract financing. The notable downside is that the surrounding community does lose some control over the future of its local airport.
What Is the Airport Privatization Pilot Program About?
Since 1996, 10 slots were provided in the program, of which 7 are not utilized. Westchester County Airport along with St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) and Hendry County Airport (2IS) are in various stages of implementation of the program. The only active airport is San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín Airport (SJU) in Puerto Rico - generally considered a success because the airport was greatly distressed and had a high amount of debt, which prevented much needed improvements. However, other efforts to utilize this program have failed due to either economic reasons or lack of political will to move through to completion. Mr. Willis further explained that there were no plans to expand the number of slots for the program
Details Regarding HPN
After providing a framework of the program, Mr. Willis reviewed the details of the program’s implementation at HPN. Currently, HPN has filed an initial application with the FAA and the County has issued an investor RFP to prospective operators. RFP submissions and a decision on which operator or investment group to retain is expected by late July 2017. The Westchester Board of Legislators is required to approve the selection with expected meetings on this matter to occur sometime in September.
According to Mr. Willis, after Westchester Board of Legislators approval, the process takes approximately a year to complete. This process includes the FAA acting on information provided by the County and the selected operator. Both the County and the selected operator must (among other things) meet 9 statutory conditions to gain approval by the FAA. The completion timeline of this will depend on how long it takes to receive the requested information. At a later point in the process, the FAA will hold public hearings to receive and gauge public opinion from the community. However, by historical data, the expected completion of the process would occur no earlier than late summer/early fall 2018.
What to Expect Moving Forward
With awareness that 78% of the traffic and revenue is derived from general aviation at HPN, the FAA assured our WAA representatives that they are very focused on the needs and impact to the general aviation community. Mr. Willis graciously offered to stay in touch and meet again at any time helpful to the WAA.
After the meeting with the FAA, the WAA board members traveled to NBAA headquarters and received a further briefing on the subject from NBAA’s outside legal counsel to gain additional knowledge on the subject and possible alternatives.
The WAA Board of Directors will continue to stay hyper vigilant on this issue with the goal of protecting the interests of all users and stakeholders at HPN. The WAA is committed to not only advocating on our members behalf, but also delivering the timely updates and news on this issue and others affecting Westchester County Airport. Please remember that the more constituents we represent, the more our voice and declarations will be listened to and acted upon. If you are a member of the WAA, we thank you for your continued support and want you to know that this is the exact type of issue your membership dollars are working to guard against. If you are not currently a member of the WAA, please consider joining today. As you can see, we are dedicated to our mission of providing a strong voice for general aviation at HPN and to sustain a thriving airport community, both now and in the future.