Paris company seeks to run Briscoe Field

New York-based Propeller Investments Thursday confirmed it plans to partner with an experienced Paris airport manager to operate Briscoe Field if Gwinnett County officials approve its plans to launch commercial flights there.

Aeroports de Paris operates about two dozen airports around the world and would run day-to-day operations at Briscoe Field if Gwinnett allows Propeller to initiate passenger service at the Lawrenceville airport.

Jacques Follain, chief executive officer of Aeroports de Paris, said Atlanta is well-suited for a second commercial airport. In a telephone interview from France, he said a privately operated Briscoe Field would be “fruitful for the county and the region of Atlanta.”

“It seems clear that a second airport in the region of Atlanta would be successful,” Follain said.

Opponents of commercial flights at Briscoe Field remain skeptical. Jim Regan, a member of a citizen group that recently recommended Gwinnett reject Propeller’s plans, said Aeroports de Paris “can't change the economic fundamentals of the airline industry,” which he believes work against commercial service at Briscoe Field.

Confirmation of Aeroports de Paris’ involvement comes as Propeller Investments is trying to fend off criticism of its plans while under the constraints of Gwinnett County purchasing rules. Under those rules, Gwinnett has not released the details of Propeller’s plan and has advised the company not to discuss them publicly.

In the past, Propeller has said it wants to build a 10-gate terminal and begin commercial flights to New York, Chicago and other cities using Boeing 737s, which seat up to 140 passengers. That would be a big change for an airport that currently serves corporate jets and other small aircraft seating up to 19 people.

Supporters say commercial flights at Briscoe could boost economic development and provide a convenient alternative to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Critics fear additional noise and traffic could degrade quality of life near the airport and question whether commercial flights make economic sense.

Two aviation experts recently told a citizen group studying the issue that it was unlikely airlines would be attracted to a new airport that had never hosted schedule passenger service.

Like Propeller officials, Follain did not discuss specifics of the companies’ proposal. But he said some airlines are interested in Briscoe Field if those plans move forward. He did not name them.

Among the facilities that Aeroports de Paris operates is Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. It also operates other airports in Europe, Mexico, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. A recent company financial statement indicates it handled more than 88 million passengers last year.

Aeroports de Paris does not operate any airports in the United States. But Follain said he believes “there’s a future in the U.S.”

Follain said his company hopes to convince Gwinnett officials that plans for commercial flights make sense.

“It will work only if the county is convinced,” he said.

That may take some doing. Commissioners appear to be split on the issue. Three of five members have said they want to see a specific proposal before they make up their mind, while the others say they oppose commercial flights.

The citizen committee advising commissioners also is divided. A narrow majority voted recently to recommend the county reject Propeller’s plans.

In a report sent to county officials late Wednesday, a minority of the group said the commission has “a moral, ethical and fiduciary responsibility to see through and finish what it started” when it announced plans to privatize the airport more than two years ago. The minority report cited the potential economic benefits of commercial flights.

Gwinnett County’s purchasing staff is reviewing Propeller’s proposal. Commissioners are expected to take action by the end of June.