A series of welcome announcements by the Rousseff government shows that it is getting serious with airport concessions. First, the government has appointed the capable Wagner Bittencourt in a newly-created position as secretary of civil aviation; he is likely to make professional rather than political appointments, a practice that has bedevilled the other organs of aviation, split between the intransigent military and an overweaning civil authority.
More recently, the government announced plans to hand over to private concessionaires the running of key airports starting with Guarulhos and and Brasilia’s international airport followed by Viracopos in São Paulo and later extending plans to Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão and Belo Horizonte’s Confins.
All well and good and there is certainly plenty of foreign and local interest. Local construction companies, who will get the bulk of the initial work, are rubbing their hands. But what's in it for foreigners?
Conflicting aims mean the government will almost certainly overspend and under-achieve. In line with other Cup and Olympics projects, the timetable is exceptionally tight with the shape of the concessions still to be thrashed out by consultants. That leaves it unclear what kind of concessions are favoured and just how much of the infrastructure will be passed to the private sector. It looks likely that runways and aprons will be kept by the venally incompetent state infrastructure group Infraero. The running of airports and key areas such as baggage handling and jetways are likely to go to the private sector. There are bound to be conflicts in this mixed private-public setup.
Estimates of passenger numbers and revenues will err on the upside and could make the terms of contracts for the private sector too onerous. The timeframe will be frantic as the government would dearly love to finish the projects before the World Cup.
The danger is that the rest of the privatization programme for airports could well get quietly scrapped if these first round of concessions do not work out well. All indications point to a fraught two years.