Gwinnett's Airport: Officials mull pros, cons of privatization

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Within a month, county officials could learn if Gwinnett's airport is in line for a federal program allowing privatization.

A "pre-application" was filed with the Federal Aviation Administration last week, Transportation Director Brian Allen said to a group of legislators hearing a proposal by Propeller Investments to take over Briscoe Field.

"I urge everyone to look at the big picture here and the amount of people who will get back to work" said Propeller's Brett Smith, adding that a commercialized airport could spur 500 jobs at the airport alone with thousands of others opening up. "This is an opportunity for us to make a difference."

Rep. Lee Thompson, a Democrat whose district includes the Lawrenceville community surrounding the general aviation airport, said the pros and cons need to be weighed by the community.

Just last week, he received a petition from people against the project, but he said many of the detractors haven't heard the facts about the proposal.

"I think it's an interesting concept," he said. "I do think we need to have a lot of public input. ... I'm willing to listen."

Thompson said many still have concerns dating back to a 20-year-old proposal to expand Briscoe Field.

But Smith said the only feasible proposal would be a 10-gate terminal with 10 to 15 dedicated routes to places such as New York, Washington, Orlando or Miami.

While Propeller is not guaranteed a contract, even if the county does move forward, because of a required bidding process, Smith said the company is willing to invest $106 million into the facility.

Allen noted that the pre-application phase simply reserves a place for the county in the five airport privatization pilot program slots, three of which are already taken. Officials will then take up to a year to study the situation, collect public input and review bids before deciding if the project will move forward.