Official: Briscoe should go private

LAWRENCEVILLE -- A plan to privatize Gwinnett's airport could bring more than $1 billion in economic impact and 20,000 jobs in the next decade.

Brett Smith, chief investment officer of Propeller Investments, said the Atlanta area is ripe for a second commercial airport, and the 508-acre Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville is the best place for the venture.

County officials have said they will study privatizing the facility, including having public hearings on the matter. If officials choose to sell or rent the airport, the private partner will be chosen through a public bidding process, but Propeller is the firm that began talks on the project.

Smith said he has worked on research for a second commercial airport for two years.

"The county has a real opportunity here, and they need to act on it," he said, adding that the county could gain both property and sales tax dollars and reduce the county's liabilities and overhead through the venture.

But he said his vision is not to create a second Hartsfield -- the mega-airport in Atlanta that has the most passengers in the world.

"People who are (at Briscoe) today, don't worry," he said, adding that the average number of takeoffs at the airport would only increase from 14 to 18 an hour, still half the amount that take off from Peachtree-DeKalb Airport. "It's only going to get better for them."

As a general aviation pilot himself, he said the private jets and single-engine Cessnas would continue at the airport, and his company isn't interested in raising their rental fees.

Instead, the money would come from any small commercial airlines who host flights to places like New York, Boston, Miami, Dallas and Denver.

He plans to model the facility after White Plains Airport in Westchester County, New York.

While less than 15 percent of Hartsfield's passengers are from Atlanta and only 20 percent ever touch Georgia soil, Smith said the Gwinnett terminal, which could have 10 gates, will be catered to the local traveler and will allow people to get to their gates 10 minutes after they leave their car.

For the past several months, Smith has met with both civic and business leaders about the idea, and a poll of registered voters conducted in February shows support for privatization.

The issue now rests with commissioners, he said, to move forward with the Federal Aviation Administration Airport Privatization Pilot Program.

For more information about the proposal, go to www.whyprivatizebriscoe.com.