Most U.S. airports are publicly owned by local governments, but the federal government owns Dulles and Reagan airports. In Europe, on the other hand, many airports are fully private, particularly in the U.K. and Portugal, according to data from consulting firm ICF.
“I think of privatization as having two potential objectives: one is to monetize an existing asset, or more colloquially: cash out,” said Samuel Engel, head of the aviation practice at ICF. “The other is to tap the capital markets to build and invest in infrastructure.”
While outright private ownership of airports is rare, millions of flyers in the United States have experienced a structure whereprivate companies, including airlines, operate terminals.
As airports are airlines’ lifeblood, carriers often have to agree to major changes in airport ownership structure, Engel said. “The airlines are not likely to support a deal that would result in higher charges.”
It’s too early to tell who would step forward as buyers for Dulles and Reagan airports. But another selling point is record passenger traffic worldwide. Each of these airports handled more than 21 million passengers in 2016, according to Airports Council International, an industry group.