The U.S. Department of Transportation has given preliminary approval to the city of St. Louis’ request to explore the privatization of St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

The Transportation Department told the Business Journal that the airport’s preliminary application was approved under a 1996 law that allows the Federal Aviation Administration to approve up to 10 airport privatization projects.

The preliminary approval “demonstrates the administration’s commitment to leveraging innovative financing strategies to revitalize our nation’s aviation infrastructure,” Elaine Chao, transportation secretary, said in a statement.

The city’s next steps include choosing a private operator for the airport and negotiating an operations agreement, the FAA said. Any agreement must also be approved by the airlines and city boards.

It was reported last month that the city of St. Louis had submitted a preliminary application to the FAA’s Airport Privatization Pilot Program. Former Mayor Francis Slay told the Business Journal at the time that the move could free up millions of dollars more from the airport, perhaps helping the city invest in projects like a north-south MetroLink expansion.

The city, which owns the airport, currently receives about $6 million from the facility per current law, he said. Travis Brown of Grow Missouri Inc., which is partnering with the city on the project, said that figure could increase by four to 10 times under a public-private partnership. Grow Missouri Inc. is a nonprofit funded by billionaire investor and activist Rex Sinquefield.

St. Louis would be the second major U.S. airport to operate under private management, following San Juan, Puerto Rico. Current Mayor Lyda Krewsonsaid in a statement that the Transportations Department’s approval “is a great opportunity to explore a public private partnership.”

“I appreciate their consideration of our application and look forward to working with the FAA throughout the process, but as always, the key is in the details,” Krewson said.

SOURCE: St. Louis Business Journal