Click here Introduction
Whether privately owned or part of a public system, there are fundamental
characteristics of the administrative and organizational structure of an airport.
The number of people employed at a given airport can range from as few as
one, at the smallest of general aviation facilities, to as many as 50,000 at the
world’s largest airport authorities.
Those airports that employ fewer numbers of people expect these people to
accept a wider range of responsibilities. For example, an airport management
employee at a small airport might be responsible for maintaining the airfield,
managing finances, and maintaining good relations with the local public. At the
larger airports, employees are typically given very specific responsibilities for a
particular segment of airport management.
Airport ownership and operation
Public airports in the United States are owned and operated under a variety of
organizational and jurisdictional arrangements. Usually, ownership and operation
coincide: commercial airports might be owned and operated by a city,
county, or state; by the federal government; or by more than one jurisdiction
(a city and a county). In some cases, a commercial airport is owned by one or
more of these governmental entities but operated by a separate public body,
such as an airport authority specifically created for the purpose of managing
the airport. Regardless of ownership, legal responsibility for day-to-day operation
and administration can be vested in any of five kinds of governmental or
public entities: a municipal or county government, a multipurpose port authority,
an airport authority, a state government, or the federal government.
A typical municipally operated airport is city owned and run as a department
of the city, with policy direction by the city council and, in some cases,
by a separate airport commission or advisory board. County-run airports are
similarly organized. Under this type of public operation, airport policy decisions
are generally made in the broader context of city or county public investment
needs, budgetary constraints, and development goals.
Some commercial airports in the United States are run by multipurpose port authorities.
Port authorities are legally chartered institutions with the status of
public corporations that operate a variety of publicly owned facilities, such as
harbors, airports, toll roads, and bridges. In managing the properties under
their jurisdiction, port authorities have extensive independence from the state
and local governments. Their financial independence rests largely on the
power to issue their own debt, in the form of revenue bonds, and on
the breadth of their revenue bases, which might include fees and charges from
Airport ownership and operation
marine terminals and airports as well as proceeds (bridge or tunnel tolls) from
other port authority properties. In addition, some port authorities have the
power to tax within the port district, although it is rarely exercised.
Another type of arrangement is the single-purpose airport authority. Similar in
structure and in legal charter to port authorities, these single-purpose authorities
also have considerable independence from the state or local governments, which
often retain ownership of the airport or airports operated by the authority. Like
multipurpose port authorities, airport authorities have the power to issue their
own debt for financing capital development, and in a few cases, the power to
tax. Compared to port authorities, however, they must rely on a much narrower
base of revenues to run a financially self-sustaining enterprise.
Since the early 1950s, there has been a gradual transition from city- and
county-controlled airports to the independent single or multipurpose authorities.
The predominant form is still municipally owned and operated, particularly
the smaller commercial and GA airports; however, there are reasons for
• Many airport market or service areas have outgrown the political jurisdiction
whose responsibility the airport entails. In some cases there is
considerable, actual or potential, tax liability to a rather limited area. In
these cases the creation of an authority to “spread the potential or actual
tax support” for the airport might be recommended. By spreading
the tax base of support for the airport, more equitable treatment of the
individual taxpayer can result and the taxpayers supporting the airport
in most cases more nearly match the actual users of the facility.
• Another advantage of authority control of an airport is that such an organization
allows the board to concentrate and specialize on airport