Westchester County’s next public hearing on airport policy covers governance, at:
June 11, 7:00 pm
Hergenhan Recreation Center
40 Maple Avenue
Armonk, NY 10504
The question of governance and the FAA’s Airport Privatization Pilot Program are inextricably linked. The only reason there is any discussion about reducing public governance of the airport is to enable pulling money out of the airport under the FAA’s privatization program.
The airport is an important piece of Westchester County’s infrastructure. It is also a major source of pollution. The airport needs to remain fully accountable to the public in order to maintain balance between the services the airport provides and the pollution it causes. Obviously, this precludes handing over governance of the airport to a private entity. We have detailed the problems with such an arrangement in our white paper against privatization. However, any change that turns the airport into a profit center, whether for the county or for a private party, will almost certainly lead to expansion and a weakening of governance and accountability.
The airport would grow tremendously if operated as a for-profit entity. Aviation interests have continually pushed for more development and more traffic at the airport. Just since 2016, private charter airlines FlexJet and NetJets have secured new hangars under 30-year leases. Million Air built a new terminal and hangar to add 78,000 square feet of space. This year, NetJets and Textron tried to open a regional maintenance facility by sneaking it past our government as a routine lease assignment. Million Air tried to build yet another 80,000 square foot hangar while claiming that the county withholding approval would be unreasonable.
A profit motive for our government would create powerful incentives for expansion to increase revenue and for cost cutting on security or environmental protections. Every budget shortfall and every tax increase could be easily addressed by allowing more traffic – and more profits – at the airport. It would be tempting to short sightedly allow a little bit of growth each year. But as the traffic ratchets up, it wouldn’t be long before our communities would be transformed with intolerable noise, traffic, and air pollution. Or even worse, we could be faced with a serious problem at the Kensico Reservoir.
It only takes a moment of weakness to dismantle the policies that keep Westchester Airport small. The Terminal Use Regulations are an important tool in limiting the 10-15% of traffic that uses the airline terminal. However, they only exist because they are grandfathered under federal law; it is possible that any change would invalidate them entirely. Typical leases for facilities catering to private jets last 30 years. Lease provisions directly limiting private traffic are likely unenforceable under federal law.
For decades, Westchester County Airport has operated as a private public partnership, but one where neither the private operator nor the county benefits from increasing profits at the airport. Changing this dynamic would open a Pandora’s box of bad incentives that would drive expansion and reduce accountability, regardless of whether the entity responsible for governance changes.
Please attend the hearing to show your support and deliver your comment in person, or submit by email to [email protected].