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County seeks airport partners

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Wanted: Private companies to partner with Gwinnett County to operate Briscoe Field.

Gwinnett officials issued a request for qualifications Thursday, which would allow firms to submit information about their interest in taking over the county airport, which is proposed as part of a federal pilot program.

Propeller Investments, a New York-based firm, has already approached the county with a proposal to take over operations and transform the general aviation airport to allow commercial flights out of Lawrenceville. But through the Federal Aviation Administration program, which has been pre-approved, the county must open the opportunity to any business interested.

"Moving forward with the RFQ is important because it will allow us to learn more about the best use of Briscoe Field and an array of privatization opportunities," Commission Chairman Charles Bannister said in a press release. "When we learn more about the airport operation options and interests, we can then involve the community in helping us weigh our options."

The submissions, which are due Aug. 16, will be evaluated by a team, which will create a short list based on financial resources and management capability. According to a press release, the firms may be asked to submit financial and technical proposals on potential airport privatization and operations, although the county is not required to move forward with the process.

If an agreement is reached between the firm and the county, the FAA also must review a final application. The release said FAA approval will be based on conditions including the firm's "ability to ensure continued access to the airport on reasonable terms, continued safe operations, continued maintenance and improvements, security, decreased noise and environmental impacts and continued operation of the airport in case the private operator goes bankrupt or other defaults."

Last month, about 200 protested the proposal to privatize to expand the airport. Officials have promised a public involvement process will be a part of the decision-making methodology.