For 51 years Bergstrom Air Force Base was home to fighter pilots, bombers, troop carriers and reconnaissance jets. It was the first port of call for President Lyndon B. Johnson on his trips home to LBJ Country aboard Air Force One, it was where Chuck Yeager, the first pilot to break the sound barrier, once brought a disabled jet to rest in an emergency landing. In September 1993, in the path of military cutbacks Bergstrom Air Force Base was closed. But the timing was fortuitous, because the closure came as the city of Austin, Texas was considering where to build a new airport.
In 1993, the expected economic loss to Austin from the Bergstrom closure was estimated at $406 million a year and a loss of some 1000 jobs.But with the possibility of utilizing the prior Bergstrom Air Force Base as an airport the Austin economy was expected to have an opportunity to rebound and even improve these results from the base closure by privatizing the airport.
The trend worldwide toward airport privatization presents an exciting and dynamic opportunity for the flying public, governments, operators and investors. The overall success of privatization of airports has been seen by the sale of long-term leases for three of the largest airports in Australia for $2.6 billion. Following this success, the Government of Australia announced their plans to privatize fifteen more airports.
Several Latin American airports already are in private hands. Major airports in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela are already concessioned or scheduled for privatization over the next two years. Smaller airports in Central America and the Caribbean also are to be privatized.
In Europe, a significant number airports have been privatized and opportunities are imminent in Germany, Portugal and elsewhere. Governments in Southeast Asia, Africa, and the world over also are developing airport privatization plans.
Why has this marked trend emerged and why did the city of Austin choose to act in this capacity? Governments in many cases do not have the financial capacity to invest in airport expansion as well as meet other needs of their citizens. They are recognizing that on one hand there are limits to their own knowledge of, and expertise, in managing airports; and, on the other, that such expertise can be provided by others with the effect of reducing costs, increasing revenues and improving services. An important objective in many instances is to increase competitiveness and enhance ability to attract economic development by improving airport facilities and obtaining additional air service.
The private sector increasingly has come to view airports as an attractive investment; airports serve a dynamic growth industry–commercial aviation–and represent essential infrastructure with a near monopoly.
Qualified private airport operating companies have materialized and others will evolve, while successful public airport operators are seeking to expand to provide airport management services–generally as part of broader investor groups.
As a result, substantial numbers of airports will come to be operated by a worldwide network of airport operators. These worldwide operators will engage in healthy competition with each other to be efficient and offer superior services, and thus support the objectives of the investor groups in which they participate.
The city of Austin expectations by privatizing were:
h Accountability. Private contractors are paid for results. This gives them an unwavering focus on performance that can rarely be sustained in a public agency. Moreover, private contractors operate under the very real possibility that if their performance is found lacking, the contract may end. This accountability is transferred directly to employees who must deliver top-notch performance to preserve their position in a private organization.
h Performance-based Compensation. Just as private contractors are paid based on results, they can base employee compensation on performance. Contractors can pay bonuses for exceptional performance and give merit increases alone rather than longevity-based pay increments. This elicits greater productivity and effectiveness from staff.
h Management Expertise. Contractors develop expertise to compete effectively. They hire well-known experts and develop management structures geared toward continuous improvements in performance.
h Flexibility. Private contractors have the flexibility to respond quickly to changing program requirements or evolving needs of organizations. They can acquire new technology, obtain new equipment, reorganize offices, and/or adjust staffing