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News Article - February 20, 2007

Fattah: Lease airport to fund social services  
  U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah says the city should try to lease Philadelphia International Airport to a private operator, a move he says would produce close to $2 billion that the city could use for a broad anti-poverty initiative. Fattah, one of the Democratic candidates for mayor, said he would create a "Philadelphia Opportunity Foundation" to manage the airport proceeds, which he estimated could provide $150 million a year for social services. Right now, the city manages the airport as a nonprofit facility, deciding what expenses are necessary and passing them on to the airlines. Fattah said a private operator should be able to run the airport more efficiently, producing revenue both to pay the city and earn a profit without necessarily raising charges to airlines or passengers.

   But a transportation specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, Vukan R. Vuchic, said the effects of privatization were difficult to predict. "Privatization has worked in some places and been a disaster in other places," said Vuchic, a professor of transportation engineering. Vuchic said he would be concerned about controlling user fees, both for airlines and passengers, and making sure that a private operator did not increase profits by deferring maintenance and allowing airport facilities to decline. The city of Chicago is seeking permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to privatize Midway International Airport, under an FAA pilot program limited to five U.S. airports, only one of which can be a "major commercial hub."

   But the Bush administration has proposed an FAA reauthorization bill that would expand the pilot program to 15 airports, without any restriction on how many could be hubs. Holly Baker, a spokeswoman for the FAA, said that before the Midway proposal is approved, Chicago will have to choose a private operator and submit a plan that specifies a maximum return on the operator's investment.

Source - Philadelphia Inquirer



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