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Lambert Airport

A view of St. Louis Lambert International Airport on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — A city committee is behind schedule in its analysis of whether to seek private operators for St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Officials had projected that the Airport Advisory Working Group would decide on issuing a request for qualifications — or RFQ — from potential bidding companies by the first quarter of this year, or by March 31.

But that has yet to happen and the group’s chairman, City Budget Director Paul Payne, declined this week to speculate on when that decision will be made.

“There are a number of processes we need to go through,” Payne said. The committee, he said, will take “whatever time is necessary to complete that.”

Mayor Lyda Krewson said she understands that the decision on an RFQ could be made by the end of June or sometime in July. After the committee decides which companies are deemed qualified, it then will seek proposals from the rival firms.

“We’re still in conversations with the airlines,” the mayor said in an interview Tuesday.“There’s some fluidity.”

That was a reference to the airlines serving Lambert, which have hired a Florida-based consulting firm, AvAirPros, to help them to decide whether to agree to a privatization deal and what should be considered.

That firm is in addition to the team of consulting companies hired by the city to study the issue and advise the working group.

The airlines have veto power over privatization, with the airport’s dominant carrier, Southwest Airlines, holding the biggest airline voice.

Linda Martinez, Krewson’s deputy mayor for development, wouldn’t say much Wednesday on ongoing discussions between the city and the airlines on the issue.

“Conversations are going on,” Martinez said before the start of a working group meeting. “They had some turnover in their staff and we’re still talking.”

Martinez is among Krewson’s representatives on the committee.

The working group spent only about five minutes in open session, hearing a brief update from Alderman Marlene Davis, a committee member, on public outreach and discussing possible dates for upcoming meetings.

Then the panel, as it has done at previous meetings, shifted into closed executive session to deal with meatier issues. They were listed on Wednesday’s agenda as “airline update” and “RFQ update.”

Krewson’s predecessor as mayor, Francis Slay, initiated the privatization study weeks before he left office in 2017. Billionaire financier Rex Sinquefield’s nonprofit, Grow Missouri Inc., paid for the city’s application to the Federal Aviation Administration to be given authority to look into the idea.

Krewson, who inherited the effort, has said often that considering privatization doesn’t guarantee that the city will go through with it. Among the key firms advising the city is Grow Missouri.

Grow Missouri is paying all advisory fees and will only be reimbursed for them and the cost of the initial application if a deal goes through. Some city aldermen critical of the process have attacked that arrangement as a conflict of interest.

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