Privatization may be route to go with airport

Auckland, Buenos Aires, London, Melbourne and Rome.

They’ve all done it. Each of those cities has privatized its airport.

Now that the shock of Allegiant’s decision to abandon us is wearing off — though, perhaps, not the resentment — I think we should begin to think seriously about leasing out Fort Collins-Loveland Municipal Airport.

But first things first.

Jim Clark and Betsy Hale need your help.

Clark, the head of the Fort Collins Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Hale, who heads up economic development for the city of Loveland, are at the moment brainstorming ways to lure in another airline to replace Allegiant.

If you own or manage a business in Larimer or Weld counties, whether you or your workforce ever relied on Allegiant or not, I’d like to suggest that you stop to think about how you might be able to help.

The effort to bring in a new airline won’t be easy. It will take time and it will take money.

A community-wide marketing push is in order.

The positive passenger-load data for Allegiant will help open doors at the offices of the airlines we might want to court. But the odds of success are greater if the airport can point to widespread support among the business community — even if all that we’re able to attract is another travel agency that happens to fly planes.

That, of course, is the best way to describe Allegiant. Plane service is practically an after-thought to the airline. It’s happiest when its customers book hotels and rental cars from its website; least happiest when they don’t.

In any case, getting everyone aligned behind a campaign to find a new airline might not be as easy to pull off as it should be.

That’s because apparently not everyone in the business community feels a great urgency on this topic. They point out that Denver International isn’t very far away and that the routes we’re losing with Allegiant’s withdrawal were geared much more in favor of the leisure traveler rather than those flying out on business.

Both of those points are certainly valid but they overlook a bigger issue: any market without a commercial airline is just plainly podunk.

Moreover, we can’t expect to get anywhere with efforts to build our tourism base, to become a destination rather than an origination point, without an airline to bring in skiers or white-water rafters or anyone else.

It’s a regional economy issue, which is why whether you ever stepped onto an Allegiant flight or not, finding a replacement is important to us all.

The airport is about to hire a consultant to help it find the replacement. It’ll rely on a federal grant that it already has in hand to pay the cost of this person.

Once this individual is hired, it will try to line up face-to-face calls with the leadership of airlines that might be interested in serving our market.

The case will be helped in part by pointing out that the airport has spent $30 million on capital projects over the past decade. On the other hand, it will be hurt by the lack of a control tower and a runway that could stand to be lengthened.

Whatever transpires, Airport Director Jason Licon is going to need a hand, so drop him a line or send him an email (jason.licon@cityofloveland.org) and see what you can do.

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts about privatization of the airport:

• Fort Collins and Loveland together spend about $165,000 a year in support of the airport. That’s not a lot of money but why spend any money at a time when tight budgets don’t allow for much more than the basics?

• Neither city need fear losing control of this asset. A long-term lease deal can leave the municipalities in firm control.

• Most airport improvements or expansions are funded directly through taxes or the sale of bonds that are backed by government entities. In private hands, taxpayer liability should no longer be an issue.

• Leasing the airport to a private company should yield big money. How much? Tens of millions of dollars, according to at least one estimate from a reliable source.

Airport privatization is widespread overseas but still very much an experiment in the U.S.

On the other hand, states are privatizing roads while cities are privatizing hospitals, so it would just seem smart to consider privatizing the airport.

Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3142 or agreenberg@ncbr.com.

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