Nenshi against airport privatization unless 'real benefits' can be seen for citizens

Calgary's mayor says he's not in favour of the privatization of the city's airport. It comes as CBC News revealed the Liberal government has hired consultants to advise on the sale of the country's major airports.

Ottawa hired consultants in secretive project looking at airport sell-offs

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he has trouble seeing how selling off the country's major airports would benefit citizens. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Calgary's mayor says he is not a fan of the idea of privatizing the city's airport.

Naheed Nenshi's comments come after CBC News revealed the Liberal government has hired consultants to advise on selling off the country's major airports — which they are calling Project Eagle.

"We are not particularly in favour of privatizing this airport away from the Calgary Airport Authority unless there can be real benefits proven to citizens," Nenshi said Wednesday.

Documents obtained under Access to Information show the federal government has hired a consulting firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, to look into the mechanics of a sale.

It's estimated Ottawa could reap up to $16 billion from selling its interests in Canada's eight largest airports. Nenshi says he has trouble seeing how the move would benefit citizens.

Could lead to 'big problems,' says mayor

"Fundamentally, this is a finance problem. The airports already pay among the highest rents of any airports in the world, so any private operator would have to make money, and they could only make money two ways," he said. 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says the non-profit operators of the Calgary airport pay millions in rent to Ottawa. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

"One is by increasing the rents or increasing the revenues. Number two is by cutting down the costs. And if cutting the costs means poorer service to citizens, that's a big problem."

Airport authorities in Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa have joined forces to oppose any sale, warning of price increases for airlines and passengers.

The government has said money from any airport sell-off could be used to fund new infrastructure projects.