April 12, 2008 at 1:00 am

Detroit

Privatizing City Airport studied

Kilpatrick wants to turn over management, renovate City Airport and add longer runway.

DETROIT -- Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is close to announcing a plan to turn over management of the struggling Coleman A. Young International Airport -- commonly known as City Airport -- to a private company that has pledged to spend $50 million to revamp it.

Improvements would include construction of a 6,500-foot-long runway parallel to the two shorter existing runways, said Deputy Mayor Anthony Adams. He said Kilpatrick plans on submitting to the City Council a proposed agreement with AvPorts, a Baltimore-based company, in the next three weeks.

Bigger jets can't use the airport because its runways are too short. But lengthening runways is expensive and will face certain opposition from nearby suburbs over noise.

The deal is tied to the $6 million Kilpatrick has set aside for the airport in his proposed $300 million economic stimulus plan, Adams said. He said that money would help bring in AvPorts, which he said would then make the renovations.

"It's an area ripe for redevelopment," Adams said.

The $6 million would be used to complete a federally recommended safety zone by buying out nearly 500 area property owners, a plan which the city has been working on for more than 13 years.

Adams said the city would still own the airport, but the private company would manage operations -- similar to the city's relationship with the Detroit Zoo.

James Canning, a Kilpatrick spokesman, said the administration is unable to release more details on the proposal, including what would happen to city employees who work at the airport. Eight full-time positions are listed for the airport in the city's current budget. It will cost the city nearly $3.4 million to run the airport this year.

Detroit officials have talked about turning over management of the airport for years without success.

The last three Detroit mayors have promised to expand the airport, but all have fallen short. About a dozen commercial airlines have pulled passenger service since 1975, and the only planes using it are private, corporate and cargo. Still, some aviation experts see the airport as a key opportunity in the city's revitalization.

AvPorts operates and manages airports. Its sister company, Atlantic Aviation, runs 72 fixed-base operations at 69 airports across the country.

A spokesperson did not return calls for comment.

Detroit News Staff Writer Robert Snell contributed to this report.