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Messenger: Welcome to Trump International, the future of St. Louis aviation

Messenger: Welcome to Trump International, the future of St. Louis aviation

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The public and Lambert airport's privatization

Passengers await ground transportation at St. Louis Lambert International Airport in February.

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

It’s Thanksgiving day, some years into the future, and a commercial airliner approaches St. Louis.

“Good morning tower, this is Southwest Airlines flight 1700 coming in from Des Moines, ready for landing. Where do you want me?”

Happy Thanksgiving, Flight 1700, this is the McKenna Tower at Lambert-Sinquefield Field at Trump International Airport. Our pattern is full, so please fall in line and circle. We expect there to be an opening to land within the next hour.

“I’m not sure I can wait an hour, McKenna. We were already diverted once for weather. I’ve got a plane full of holiday travelers who started their day in various places in the upper Midwest. What’s with all the delays lately?”

Well, Flight 1700, as I’m sure you have heard, once the St. Louis airport privatized, its new private operators sought to maximize revenue opportunities. Of course, we raised all the landing fees, sold off land to developers, built more luxury accommodations for our frequent travelers, mostly people who are billing other folks for their travel, so they don’t really care what it costs. One of our latest innovations is offering certain flights quicker access to runways, sort of like the TSA pre-check line. Right now, we’ve got a few flights coming in from D.C. full of lobbyists and corporate titans that pay extra to get ahead of you in line, so you’re just going to have to wait a bit longer.

“That seems rather shortsighted, McKenna. I’m surprised the city allowed its private operators to make that sort of decision. How are you getting away with that?”

Truth be told, Flight 1700, it’s not like the city was paying attention. Back in 2019 and 2020, the city was in a rush to privatize, as it was being led by a bunch of followers of President Donald Trump. This was before he left office, of course. There was financier and Trump-donor Rex Sinquefield, who was funding the whole operation. The banker was Moelis & Co., known in Beltway circles as Trump’s personal banker. Of course there was Andrew McKenna, the GOP dark-money political consultant, and Sinquefield’s lobbyist, Travis Brown, a frequent White House visitor during the Trump days. The mayor who allowed the whole scheme to take place was a Democrat, Lyda Krewson, but she thought the private operators were going to write a big check at the end of the day and save the city’s budget problems, so she pretty much turned a blind eye to the problems.

“Did the city get its big check?”

Well, sort of. There was a promise of something like $2 billion. But only some of it was upfront money. The rest got tangled up in small print, particularly after the 2020 election when Wall Street tanked knowing its free ride was over. In the end, the developers and consultants got away like bandits, and the airport’s private operators are struggling because it appears the great plan to make St. Louis the first of many private airports sort of fizzled.

“Wasn’t the media paying attention?”

Well, they tried. But the city refused to provide any public documents during the run-up to signing the final contract, so none of the details were known until the deal was done. By then, all the aldermen saw the promise of $2 billion, and they voted yes before anybody knew that there were a lot of strings attached to that money.

“So what are my options if I’m going to run out of fuel, here?”

Well, I would suggest you divert. There’s room at Midway in Chicago and that’s only a few hours away. We’ve been diverting a lot of flights to Memphis and Indianapolis lately. Hopefully your passengers can rent a car or get a bus and still make it in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Part of our problem is that our new terminal construction is two years behind and several hundred million over budget. That’s created a problem at the old terminal, because we just don’t have enough gate space beyond what’s dedicated to our first-class passengers. City leaders should have seen that coming, after the corruption and delays and cost overruns with the privatized terminals in Kansas City and Denver. But, you know, they were in a hurry to get this thing done before Trump fizzled and the whole movement to privatize government operations dried up.

“Sounds like quite the folly, McKenna.”

Well, it depends on your perspective, Flight 1700. Trump International is a pretty convenient place if you have access to the Pelopidas Lounge and Casino. I hear it’s got a seafood tower to die for.

“Thanks, McKenna. Maybe next time. This is Flight 1700 diverting to Memphis. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.”

Get Tony's e-newsletter: From City Hall to the Capitol, Pulitzer Prize-winning metro columnist Tony Messenger shines light on what public officials are doing, tells stories of the disaffected, and brings voice to the issues that matter.




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