Kathy Welsh

Kathy Welsh

Westchester County Airport Revitalization Attracts Three FirmsWHITE PLAINS – Three world-class airport operators — FerroStar Westchester Airport Partners, HPN Aviation Group, LLC, and MIC Airports, LLC, have responded to Westchester County’s request for proposals (RFP) to manage and operate its airport as part of a public-private partnership made possible through a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) program that allows profits from airport operations to be used for public purposes such as parks, public safety, roads and social services.

In announcing the companies, County Executive Robert P. Astorino noted that the RFP had four key components.

Proposals had to:

  • Meet the conditions of the FAA program,
  • Maintain the airport’s current size by keeping the existing number of runways, gates and passenger caps in place,
  • Maintain strict environmental safeguards, and
  • Provide financial benefits for taxpayers.

“We’re pleased with the level of expertise, experience and professionalism that each of these respondents brings to the table,” Astorino said. “I’m confident that our initiative will result in a revitalization of Westchester County Airport that benefits taxpayers, enhances the experiences of passengers, and protects the character of the surrounding communities. This is about smart government working to position a vital county asset for a strong future.”

Frasca & Associates, a leading, independent transportation and financial consulting firm, is overseeing the selection process. Frasca will help ensure that the operator selected to run the airport will provide the most value to the county in terms of financial return, operational efficiency and customer satisfaction.

The next step is for the county’s bipartisan Airport Task Force to review the proposals from the three companies. A lease will then be negotiated with the company deemed to have the best proposal, which then goes to the Board of Legislators. The expectation is that a vote by the BOL will take place by the end of the year with 12 votes needed for approval.

As is the case with all RFPs, no financial information will be made public until the lease goes to the BOL because disclosures would undermine the negotiations.  “While financial information cannot be made public at this time, residents should know that the county received three serious proposals from three serious companies,” said Doreen Frasca, President and Principal of Frasca & Associates.

The respondents are (in alphabetical order):

  • FerroStar Westchester Airport Partnersis a consortium comprised of Ferrovial Airports International and Star America Fund GP. Ferrovial, based in Spain, is an international company that specializes in construction, infrastructure, and airports, and Star America is a New York-based infrastructure asset manager that has financed, underwritten and managed over 45 infrastructure projects valued at over $60 billion.
  • HPN Aviation Group is a joint-venture between Oaktree Transportation Infrastructure and Connor Capital Transportation Opportunities. Oaktree is based in Los Angeles and its global clients include 75 of the 100 largest U.S. pension plans, over 400 corporations around the world, over 350 endowments and foundations globally, 16 sovereign wealth funds and 38 of the 50 primary state retirement plans in the United States. Connor Capital is a private investment partnership focused on investing in transportation and transportation-related companies. Since 2013, it has operated Luis Munoz Marin International Airport outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and also created a 50-year partnership for the Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore, MD, the primary port servingWashington, D.C.
  • MIC Airports, LLC, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Macquarie Infrastructure Corporationwhich owns, operates and invests in a portfolio of infrastructure businesses. The Manhattan-based company consists of an airport services business, a gas processing and distribution business, and a portfolio of contracted power and energy investments that includes ownership of gas-fired and controlling interests in wind and solar power facilities in the U.S. Macquarie owns Atlantic Aviation, an operator of more than 60 fixed-based operators including locations at Stewart International and Teterboro airports. It also has ownership and management interests throughout the world, including at Brussels Airport, Copenhagen Airport and Delhi Airport.

The RFP was sent out in April 2017 after the county executive, in partnership with the Board of Legislators, announced plans to take advantage of the FAA’s program that allows small-and mid-size airports to establish public-private management partnerships. Under the FAA’s program, airport revenues can — for the first time — be unlocked to help pay for county services, such as police, parks, roads and day care as opposed to for only airport purposes. The county airport has been privately managed and operated by AvPORTS since 1977 and has been managed privately for the county since 1945.

  1. A private company holding a lease to the Westchester County Airport of approximately 40 years and operating the airport largely free from County oversight is not in the public interest of those who live in either Westchester or NYC. In the current public-private partnership arrangement, Westchester County Airport’s management company, AvPorts, has a fiduciary duty to the county. That means that if the county is not satisfied with their work, they can be fired very easily.

    Under current county control, because we have elected officials, the residents of Westchester still have a say in what happens at the airport. If any of these three companies is awarded the lease for the airport, neither the county nor the public will be able to hold the privatizer accountable for poor performance. They will focus on profits and may pull back on security, building or runway maintenance, funding for the police (county police receives about $9 million a year from airport funds), and cut back on environmental protections such as stormwater management that goes into groundwater for the Kensico Reservoir and Blind Brook. If the county tries to intervene, a privatizer will bring swift and expensive lawsuits against the county while arguing that the county is impeding its ability to generate profits for its business. This can happen for any reason.

    Frasca, has stated at public meetings, on May 31 2017 and July 26 2017, which I personally attended, that the privatizer is only required to maintain $5 million per incident and $10 million total of pollution insurance. This is grossly inadequate to clean up any feul or chemical spill into the Kensico Reservoir, which comprises 85% of Westchester and 90% of NYC’s drinking water. These supposed environmental safeguards were not detailed anywhere in the Nov 2016 Oaktree lease (now part of HPN Aviation Group). Frasca has stated publicly that the new lease is 80-90% identical as the previous one put forth by the county executive. A privatizer clearly is failing the county executive’s claim that they will maintain strict environmental safeguards. Indeed, they are financially incentivized to relax and remove environmental safeguards.

    All of these privatization efforts have occurred without one single public meeting from held either by the private companies or by the county executive administration. The privatization proposal has circumvented public input entirely, with no public meetings intended to take place by the county.

    We must take a stand against giving up control to such an important county asset that also has the ability to negatively impact the quality of life for Westchester residents and is located on such an environmentally-sensitive area. Westchester residents need to be able to influence what will happen at the airport for the next 40 years, and demand that the county executive and county legislators refuse to hand the airport over to a profit-driven enterprise, especially one that is being done without any public knowledge or input.

  2. Westchester residents overwhelmingly do not want our public property privatized. We’ve seen the disaster that resulted from privatizing the management of Playland’s Ice Casino and park. We saw Blue Mountain Reservation dug up to put in a jumbo pipeline carrying explosive and toxic fracked gas through our parks and communities, passing our schools and endangering our children and brave firs responders. All profits to go to Spectra Energy in Houston, Texas. Like the airport privatization, the bulldozers, driven by wildcat employees who don’t live in New York, were there before residents knew what was happening. Only after did we discover Rob Astorino had taken $43,000 in campaign contributions from Spectra Energy.

    Rob Astorino has a history of selling off public property to run on the false campaign promise of lower taxes. To be more specific, it’s the illusion of lower taxes. If there is such a great profit to be made from these commons, that profit must go back to County coffers and not into the pockets of privateers.

    Rob Astorino also has a history of being of being secretive – not transparent – in these kinds of dealings. He weasels around his constituents’ concerns by saying there won’t be more gates. But there will be more flights, and therefore more noise, more pollution of Westchester air and water. The privatized Westchester County airport will serve mainly the one percent.

    These plans are nothing but classic Robbing from Westchester so that one of these corporations will profit. One cannot help but wonder if there isn’t a pay for play deal going on under the table as there was with Blue Mountain.

  3. Airports are public utilities that should never be turned over to private corporations who prioritize their shareholders and their bottom line over the public the airport was built to serve. Let’s not do this with Westchester Airport.

  4. This is a bad idea that only makes sense to Rob Astorino, who wants an easy fix for a budget shortfall. It is the equivalent of pawning your personal possessions in order to pay the monthly bills. Turning control of public assets over to private interests is bad policy. Any operator, no matter how they spin their experience or their plans, will need to turn a decent profit in order to get a return on their investment. Look no further than Playland to see how well this works.

  5. Revitalization is not what is happening here – Privatization is what is proposed. It will mean that our county citizens have little to no say about what happens with the airport. It is a bad idea, and I look to our County Legislature to stop it.

    I am concerned that this article is extremely one-sided, and looks more like a press release, reformatted into a news article. This is an extremely unpopular proposal, and one that will have a negative impact on the airports neighbors, as well as the county finances.

    I look to this paper to do some real reporting, and put out an article that discusses the strong public opposition to this proposal, as well as the opposition from many County Legislators. This might as well be a campaign piece for Rob Astorino. Shame!

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