LAWRENCEVILLE -- A request for proposals (RFP) issued for Briscoe Field last week has left members of a citizens committee exploring the airport's future wondering their validity.
"To me, it seems pointless to start that RFP process before we finish," said Jim Regan, a foe of proposals to commercialize the airport, who is a member of the committee.
Many board members said Tuesday they thought the committee would help set a county goal for the facility before the process moved forward, but Acting Transportation Director Kim Conroy said commissioners voted in August for the request for proposals to be issued before the end of the year.
With proposals due in February, about the same time the committee's recommendation is due to the board, the county is seeking a company to act as a private partner to lease or buy the airport, keeping its operations as general aviation but allowing for a future that could include commercial passenger service.
"In reading the RFP, it looks like it has narrowed the scope of this committee," local pilot Woody Woodruff said of intentions to study upgrades to the facility with public management as well as a private partner.
But other committee members said they should consider studying every option.
"An RFP doesn't mean anything," Lawrenceville Councilman Tony Powell said, pointing out that the proposals can be rejected. "We still have a chance as a committee to study the issue. We still have a chance in Gwinnett County to make a good decision up front."
Last week's issuance of the request for proposals did interfere with a subcommittee of the citizens board, which was interviewing respondents to last year's request for qualifications.
While the qualifications have been rejected by commissioners hoping for more respondents to the open RFP process, the advisory board members hoped the companies would give insights into the possibilities for Briscoe Field.
A report was given on the initial responses, although committee members said they had hoped to follow up. Now that is illegal, since the county's purchasing ordinance forbids contacts with potential bidders.
Representatives from Propeller, a New York company whose proposal to bring passenger service to Briscoe Field began the controversial debate two years ago, told the subcommittee they envisioned offering flights to Dallas, Chicago, Las Vegas, New York, Miami and Washington, D.C.
With 26 to 52 flights a day, the company expects an economic impact ranging from $700 million to $1.8 billion a year.
The company has plans to invest $104 million in a terminal and improvements to the facility, although officials said the government investment in Ga. Highway 316 improvements would be necessary.
Scott Fuller, a former manager of Briscoe Field who was a part of Gwinnett Airport LLC, another company interested in privatization, said the airport could break even with six to seven flights a day. His proposed investment was smaller -- about $30 million.
The final submitter, American Airports, had plans to continue the airport's operations as general aviation.
While some of the commercialization foes argued about the possibility of finding success with passenger flights, others said they should at least listen to any company willing to invest so many millions in the facility.
"Why would they put that kind of money into that if they didn't have that confidence, with no liability to the county?" Woodruff asked.
Committee members said they were surprised that the three companies had such varying ideas.
"That's why it's impossible to bring all that together, when even the experts can't agree on what would be the right thing," Terry Britt said.
In another report, committee members discussed the current state of the airport, recommending upgrades to the taxiway and runway that would improve the aging facility whether it is privatized or not.
Several of the committee members said one of the biggest ways to bring corporate jets to Briscoe Field is to bring a customs checkpoint, which would take help from a congressman.
The committee reconvenes at 4 p.m. next Tuesday, when a noise expert is expected to talk to the group.