© 2021 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Economy & Business

FAA accepts initial application for Lambert privatization

St. Louis Lambert International Airport
Michael R. Allen | Flickr
The city of St. Louis is exploring whether St. Louis Lambert International Airport should be managed by a private operator.

The Federal Aviation Administration has accepted the city of St. Louis’ preliminary application into an airport privatization pilot program.

The U.S. Department of Transportation made the announcement on Monday. Secretary Elaine L. Chao said the acceptance demonstrates the administration’s commitment to using innovative financing strategies to revitalize the nation’s aviation infrastructure.

“As we’ve already seen in San Juan, this approach to airport management increases productivity, revenue and operating efficiency for airports, creating greater access to capital for infrastructure needs,” Chao said in a statement.

The Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the only airport currently operated privately under the FAA program, which began in 1997.

The city of St. Louis owns and operates Lambert. Former Mayor Francis Slay initiated the application process just weeks before leaving office.

Mayor Lyda Krewson, who was sworn in last week, released a statement on Monday saying the application was an opportunity to explore a public private partnership. But her statement did not indicate whether she’s completely on board with the idea.

“I appreciate their consideration of our application and look forward to working with the FAA throughout the process, but as always, the key is in the details,” she said.

The application process is being paid for entirely by Grow Missouri Inc., with 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status, that is backed by St. Louis financier Rex Sinquefield. The group’s president, Travis Brown, said privatization would be good for the airport, the city and the region.

Brown said with privatization, the city could get a lump sum or an annual amount from a private operator that could be used for general revenue.

“We have an asset that has a $1.1 billion runway that’s not at capacity and we may to use other capital that’s transferred out of that asset into other purposes, whether it’s public safety or urban transit or anything else that may be designated,” Brown said.

A private operator would also have to take on the airport’s debt of about $1 billion.

The process is expected to take at least a year to complete After supporters find a private operator, they must receive FAA approval. Local approval would require a city ordinance, approved by the Board of Alderman, or a Charter amendment, which would require 60% voter approval.

Grow Missouri has created “Fly314,” its public outreach project to gain support for privatizing Lambert.

“We have a lot of work ahead, but we’re eager to get started for St. Louis,” Brown said.

Now, with the FAA’s green light, he said the group will begin holding town hall meetings and engaging with the city and airport commission.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.