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GIBBS: Briscoe Field upgrades would drive a better local economy

Recently WSB aired an interview with Gwinnett County Commissioner John Heard at the Flying Machine restaurant located at the Gwinnett County airport.

The tone of the interview indicated Heard has received input from opponents to privatization. However, he may not have benefited from facts and information from the supporters of privatization and the addition of scheduled service — two separate issues. The opponents to privatization have been more vocal, thus absorbing the lion’s share of attention from county and city officials. I contend that there is a vast and less vocal majority that believes privatization and the addition of scheduled service at Gwinnett County Airport would be a tremendous victory for everyone.

General aviation-related businesses have been struggling in the last few years, but never moreso than now, and especially at Gwinnett. Corporate jet and turbojet traffic is roughly half of the volume now compared to recent years. Several companies with aircraft based at Briscoe Field have gone bankrupt, while unfortunately others have abandoned Gwinnett. Oddly, there are large companies based in Gwinnett that keep their corporate jets at other metro-area airports.

Heard said that the airport needs to be “upgraded” in order to attract businesses to the Gwinnett airport. He also said that in its current state the airport is “an embarrassment.” The current situation does not allow for upgrades. Neither Gwinnett County nor the city of Lawrenceville will fund the necessary infrastructure improvements. Were Briscoe Field to be privatized, improvements could begin almost immediately.

The commissioner did say that he was for privatization but not commercial service. In the current environment, a private equity investor would not lease this airport as is; the structure would be revenue-neutral. All businesses are in the business for growth, improvement and profit.

There are businesses at the Gwinnett County airport that would welcome a private firm managing the airport. The overwhelming benefit for our residents — and the region — lie in the addition of scheduled service. Private capital infusion brings a source of revenue for businesses, job creation and the ability for someone to comfortably board a plane in Gwinnett without the additional hours spent departing or arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson. This is also where the real conflict arises between supporters and non-supporters.

It is not “privatization,” but rather the addition of scheduled service in a regional airport model that wins the day.

Airports are economic engines and considered by the federal government as crucial to the national transportation infrastructure. Our airport serves business, residents and the greater public. It can do so to a greater degree when we can easily get on a scheduled flight at Briscoe Field.

It is my hope that Gwinnett County government and the city of Lawrenceville more closely view the airport as the asset it actually is; not as Heard stated, “an embarrassment.”

John Gibbs operates Aircraft Specialists Jet Center, a fixed-based operator that planes and deplanes corporate and private passengers, and provides fuel and service for the aircraft in addition to providing hangar storage.