Fact vs. Fiction: What a P3 at HPN Actually Means for You
Below is a list of common misconceptions and falsehoods surrounding the potential P3 at Westchester County Airport. While residents are understandably concerned and curious about the County’s decision to pursue a P3 at the Airport, it is essential that they are armed with the facts and that accurate information – not hearsay – drives a fruitful, substantive discussion about the merits of a P3 in Westchester.
FICTION: The County has run the airport for years, and the involvement of a private company will hurt these operations and be unable to perform to that standard.
FACT: A private company – AvPorts – has operated the airport since the 1990s, but without the ability to unlock any revenue for the community. The county has not been managing the airport – AvPorts has, and their recent tenure has been marked by inefficiency and poor performance. A P3 would unlock revenue for the county while allowing a skilled world-class operator with demonstrable airport experience to invest in and improve our airport.
FICTION: A public-private partnership at Westchester County Airport will lead to expansion and create “LaGuardia North” in our community.
FACT: False. The operator under a P3 will still be bound by the Terminal Use Agreement and gate restrictions currently in place at the Airport, which are written into the County laws, and any changes to capacity and traffic will be decided by the County Board of Legislators, not by the private operator. In addition, the voluntary curfew (or “Voluntary Restraint from Flying”) will also stay in place.
Simply put: A private partner cannot just choose to expand the airport.
FICTION: The airport’s Master Plan is tied to the public-private partnership.
FACT: The Master Plan process was started 5 years ago, at least 3 years prior to the commencement of the P3 process. The participants in the P3 RFP were granted access to the Master Plan the same date it was made public, May 19th, 2017. Bids were shaped by the requirements of the county and the concerns of Westchester citizens - not the Master Plan. Most bidders did not have nearly enough time for this plan to inform any aspect of their bid. DY Consulting, the company hired by the County to complete the Master Plan, was granted a special waiver from the county to participate in the process and worked with one of the bidders.
FICTION: The County should run the airport, not a private operator, so that it can use the revenue the airport generates.
FACT: Under FAA regulations, the County cannot use airport revenue anywhere but the airport. All revenue currently generated at the airport is effectively stuck at the airport. This federal P3 program is the only way that the county can use funds from the airport elsewhere in the county for anything it wants – freeing up hundreds of millions of dollars in unrestricted funds to invest in roads, parks, the arts, tax relief and whatever else the county and taxpayers decide.
FICTION: The revenues that will be generated are only $15 million to plug a budget hole
FACT: The County will receive hundreds of millions of dollars under the public-private partnership deal. These unrestricted funds can be used to invest in roads, parks, the arts, tax relief and whatever else the county and taxpayers decide.
FICTION: Some legislators are claiming they will work with Washington to free up the revenue for the County, especially through parking revenues.
FACT: This is just plain fiction. The FAA expressly prohibits revenue diversion from airports unless it is through this type of P3. There is no other way for the County to unlock revenue from the airport and it is pure fiction to claim that any legislative measure could change that.
FICTION: The County will no longer own or control the Airport. The Airport Advisory Board will no longer exist under privatization and the operator will not be held accountable to the public.
FACT: The County will remain the owner of the Airport, and will have strict oversight and control over the operator through the Lease, which will contain defaults and rights for the County to step in, and the Operating Standards, which will dictate a baseline of operational items that the lease must live up to. If these are not met, the County has the right to step in and take back over operations at the Airport. In addition, the Advisory Board will still exist. The airport lessee will receive public input in the exact same manner as the county does currently. The Board of Legislators will also be accountable for changes to the lease and major capital projects.
FICTION: The County will still be held responsible for regulatory and financial risk over the 40-year lease in any deal.
FACT: False. The private partner will assume all financial and regulatory responsibilities. Not only that, they will be held accountable by the county for the duration of the 40-year lease in the manner explained above and the County will still have oversight and responsibility over major capital projects.
FICTION: A P3 will not improve efficiency of operations.
FACT: The airport was in the bottom quartile of efficiency in a December 2016 review, and a trusted, experienced airport operator will improve operations significantly. Around the world, and in the U.S., private operators have been used to increase efficiencies and improve airport operations for passengers, the airlines and all airport stakeholders.
FICTION: I don’t use the airport, so this deal won’t affect me, and most residents won’t feel any impact from this process either way.
FACT: Westchester County Airport is a critically important gateway to the region for travelers, tourists and businesses. Even more importantly, though, the airport’s current revenue can’t be used for county expenses. A P3 would enable the county to spend a portion of airport revenue in a way that could benefit every Westchester resident – from parks and roads to stabilizing property taxes and other investments in our community.
FICTION: A P3 is bad for the environment.
FACT: False. All parties remain bound by existing environmental regulation per the lease, including the AEMS, an ISO 14001 certified Airport Environmental Management System through which the airport’s environmental performance is monitored, airport-wide environmental management practices are continually improved and employees receive environmental training. Not only will the Board and the County have to approve any changes to the lease, but any private operator will be monitored by a third-party, as well as state and federal regulators. A P3 will also free up funds for Westchester County to use for off-airport environmental initiatives and conservation efforts.
FICTION: Noise pollution will rise under a P3
FACT: 14 of the airports current 22 noise monitoring units are over 20 years old and need to be replaced. A plan to replace them has been stalled in bureaucratic process for years. A private operator will be required to replace and repair these units at its expense, in keeping with the terms of the proposed Lease, and can do so immediately.
FICTION: A P3 will make the airport less safe and cut corners in order to make money.
FACT: A private operator will maintain federal, state and local safety and security requirements as is the case today and invest in policing, securing and improving the airport.
FICTION: This is a “guinea pig” project for the FAA, and there is no track record of airport P3s in the United States.
FACT: The San Juan airport went through this same P3 program and was a resounding success for all stakeholders. This is a chance for Westchester to be a leader in airport P3s, as other cities – including St. Louis – are pursuing airport P3s deals just like this. Bidders have widespread experience in airport and transportation P3s, and all have delivered positive results. By being first, we can set a precedent for a fair, beneficial deal for Westchester County – and generate revenue for the county to use on critically important projects.