Do any large, commercial airports exist that aren’t owned and run by the city government they exist in/near?

To provide context, I’m talking major airports that handle commercial airline volume. Do any (hub or regional) airports exist that are fully owned and operated by private companies vs government authorities? Or is this a total fallacy? I could understand companies big enough to have their own corporate fleet/airstrip, but I’m talking a full-scale airport with airlines the public can use.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Oct 5, 2019 at 21:13

7 Answers 7


Building an airport is a very expensive endeavor and usually involves government subsidies or is completely done by the local government. In recent decades, most government owned airports in Europe have however been transformed into companies that both own and operate the airport, usually with the government as initial owner of this company. Since this privatization, some governments have sold their shares of the company resulting in completely privately owned airports.

Going through the 20 busiest airports in Europe from Wikipedia's list, the following airports are completely or by majority privately owned:

The following airports are run by a private company, but they are majority government owned:

The following airports are directly owned by the local governments:

I am not sure who exactly owns Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo in Moscow.


London Heathrow (LHR) is owned by a private company, Heathrow Airport Holdings. I'm sure there are many other examples around the world.


The major Australian airports were all privatized from the late 1990's. Smaller regional airports are still usually council-owned and operated.

  • 15
    $\begingroup$ The Australian airport "privatisations" should stand as a warning to any jurisdictions hoping to solve short-term government financial problems by selling public assets, usually to favoured insiders. Our airports are now famous for monopolistic price-gouging on an extraordinary scale, while delivering substandard services to both airlines & the travelling public. The owners of YSSY have been quietly sabotaging the building of a non-curfew 2nd airport for nearly 15 years (their 1st CEO was the Prime Minister's ex Chief of Staff) , because they don't want to lose their monopoly. $\endgroup$
    – Mackk
    Oct 1, 2019 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Mackk Yeah... I'm normally all for having most industries owned and run privately, but things that inherently lend themselves to monopoly - such as roads, utilities... and airports - are really a different beast. Government is almost always less efficient than private industry when free competition is allowed and feasible, but free competition on major public infrastructure projects like airports and most roads just really isn't feasible. In cases like these where a monopoly is required, having it run by people who must answer to voters is usually the least bad alternative to free market. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Oct 1, 2019 at 4:50
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    $\begingroup$ @reirab I suppose the way Heathrow works is there are around 6 competing airports around the region, and one especially close. Heathrow still has a number of issues - a lack of connections to the U.K. being one of them - but it’s not the Australia situation by a long stretch. $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Oct 1, 2019 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Tim Also note that Heathrow is a hub and competes with other European hubs, like Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. If Heathrow comes with incompetitive service and pricing, British Airways goes down together with it, and Air France, KLM and Lufthansa will take over the lion share of that hub traffic. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Oct 1, 2019 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander that’s true, although the fact that Schiphol has more flights to the UK than Heathrow is annoying. $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Oct 1, 2019 at 12:23

In New Zealand both Auckland and Wellington airports are privately owned.

In both cases the local government have a non-majority shareholding which provides a fig leaf of representation but in reality nothing other than sincecures for local politicians .

They are de-facto monopolies for the region they serve and manifest the types of behaviour you would expect from that situation. In theory their profits are limited by a formula which is overseen by national government but this just has the effect that they squeeze every last cent out of activities which fall outside of the formula but which they still have a monopoly over.


Don't forget Punta Cana Airport, Dominican Republic. It was one of the first privately owned airports in the world.

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    $\begingroup$ @bogl Why would it not answer the question? Punta Cana would certainly fall under large commercial airport with connections to 3 continents and according to Wikipedia it is owned by "Punta Cana Resort and Club/Grupo Punta Cana". $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Oct 1, 2019 at 15:12
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    $\begingroup$ This absolutely answers the question: yes -- Punta Cana. A link to provide substantiation would be nice, but it's an absolutely clear & direct answer. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Oct 1, 2019 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ @bogl then edit it to remove the “don’t forget” -then it’s no-longer addressed at other answers. $\endgroup$
    – Tim
    Oct 1, 2019 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ So is that why the airport seems so popular, because it was built by a group that owns nearby resorts? $\endgroup$
    – zymhan
    Oct 1, 2019 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ "Don't forget (an airport I've never heard of)"? Links to three continents is a bit trite, practically any carribean airport links to two (N- and S- America) so just add package flights for EU tourists and you're there... with the same number of passengers as any mediterranean island airport that you'd never list as a major airport. $\endgroup$ Oct 3, 2019 at 14:19

Speaking of Sheremetyevo to continue @Bianfable answer, as of 23 April 2019:

  • 66% are held by Sheremetyevo Holding which it turn is owned by an offshore cypriot TPS Avia Holding. TPS Avia Holding in turn: 65,22% are held by trust of Ponomaryenko abd Skorobogatko families and 34,78% Arkadiy Rotenberg. While that seems to be private owners, they are tightly connected to the Russian government and especially Vladimir Putin.
  • 30,43% are off to Federal Property Management Agency
  • Minorities are Aeroflot Airlines and VEB Capital (bank). Both of those companies are controlled and owned by the Russian government

So on paper Sheremetyevo is a privately owned company, but in fact it is controlled by Russian gov't.

Source in russian: vedomosti.ru


In the United States, there is only one privately owned and operated airport with scheduled commercial service: Branson, MO, which only has seasonal service to three other destinations. The vast majority of airports in the United States are at least publicly owned, and many (the majority, I believe) are publicly operated as well.

The fact that airports in the United States have largely not been privatized while many airports in Europe have been privatized is perhaps a bit surprising, given both the USA's and Europe's relative views on private vs. public enterprise. The Government Accounting Office actually produced a report on why airport privatization hadn't taken off (so to speak.)


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