Feds extend deadline on Midway privatisation decision

Chicago now has eight more months to decide whether to re-bid the airport. However, the Federal Aviation Administration warned that if another airport applied for Midway’s slot in its pilot privatisation programme before 31 July 2011, it would ‘evaluate both Chicago’s application and preliminary applications’ filed for the spot.

The Federal Aviation Administration has granted Chicago an eight month extension to decide whether to re-bid Midway Airport.

The FAA said in a letter to Chicago it has until 31 July 2011 to “develop a course of action” for the airport, which occupies the only available slot for a large hub airport in the administration’s pilot privatisation programme. The programme has five slots total.

No other applications for the large hub slot have been filed, the FAA said. If the FAA does receive a competing application for Midway’s large hub slot before 31 July, it will place the application on a standby list in the order received.

“After July 31, 2011, the FAA will evaluate both Chicago’s application and preliminary applications on the standby list and select the most qualified applicant capable of completing the requirements of the Pilot program,” the FAA said in the letter.

Chicago applied for the extension to give its new leadership next year the opportunity to decide how and whether to proceed with the airport’s privatisation. Longtime Mayor Richard Daley has been a strong proponent of privatising Midway, but he announced in September that he would not seek a seventh term in office. Rather than pursuing the privatisation prior to leaving office next May, he has decided to leave the decision up to his successor.

The deadline of 31 July will give Chicago’s new leaders several months to decide what to do with their large hub slot in the FAA’s Pilot Privatisation Programme. A first-round election is scheduled for 22 February and run-offs will take place 5 April, meaning the new mayor and city council will be in office at the latest by early April.

The future of Midway’s privatisation remains uncertain. Several mayoral hopefuls, including front-runner Rahm Emanuel, have come out against it. If the city does complete the privatisation, though, Midway will become the largest airport to successfully complete the pilot privatisation programme, now in its fourteenth year.

Stewart Airport, a small airport outside of New York City, completed the programme in 2000. But six years later, the private concessionaire decided to quit the airport management business and eventually New York State repurchased Stewart for $78.5 million.

Midway first attempted privatisation in 2008 but the deal fell apart in April 2009 because the winning bidder could not secure the financing needed to meet the $2.5 billion payment for the airport.