A Louisiana congressman has joined AOPA's efforts to prevent the privatization of New Orleans Lakefront Airport (NEW). Rep. David Vitter (R-La.) has written to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey expressing "serious concerns" about letting the Orleans Levee District lease the airport to a private company, the American Airports Corporation (AAC). In May, AOPA filed formal comments with the FAA opposing such a move.
In his letter, Vitter told Blakey, "I believe [the application] fails to meet both the intent and the spirit of the pilot program Congress designed" to test the concept of privatizing airports. "Additionally, I have heard from a number of constituents expressing reservations about this project for a variety of reasons."
Vitter's letter raises most of the same concerns as AOPA's formal comments. "I am concerned about...safeguards against unreasonable fees at NEW," he wrote. He pointed out that under the pilot program, air carriers operating at privatized airports would be able to veto unreasonable fees, and that general aviation fees could not be raised by a higher percentage than air carrier fees. "As there are no air carrier operations at NEW, these protections would be completely lost," according to Vitter.
Vitter also points out that AAC says it intends to rely heavily on federal and state funds for airport development. "During debate and authorization of this pilot program, Congress was very clear that private investment was intended to replace federal funding," he said.
Additionally, "the airport serves as the primary reliever airport to Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY). Any significant change at NEW like the kind they (AAC) are proposing would curtail its availability as a general aviation reliever airport and negatively affect the region."
"For these reasons, I strongly urge you to carefully consider the facts and concerns expressed by the aviation industry as you consider this proposal," concluded Vitter.
"With airports continuing to close at an alarming rate, we've got to explore new ways to keep them open, such as privatization," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. But it's going to take the vigilance and efforts of people like Congressman Vitter to keep opportunists from taking advantage while the system changes."