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US Airways says it first learned CLT airport authority proposal last summer

More Information

  • CLT airport authority backers say study validates push
  • The full US Airways statement

    US Airways has been following with interest the ongoing controversy surrounding the governance of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. We first became aware of interest in an airport authority last summer, when we were approached by some local business leaders who shared our concern about the potential forced retirement of Jerry Orr and the loss of his successful, cost-effective model of airport management. We met with these business leaders and reviewed draft legislation prepared by one of them. At one point, an executive of US Airways did as a courtesy forward a draft bill from one of the businessmen to another, but we had nothing to do with the origination or drafting of the legislation. We eventually elected to not join the effort to create an airport authority, because our issue is the management of the airport, not how it is owned.

    We, of course, followed the authority legislation and have discussed it with those involved, including Mayor Foxx, the key legislators, and business leaders who support and oppose the legislation. We also have participated in the Airport Study Group. Our primary goals are (i) to help ensure that the airport remains on the course that has made it such an economic engine for Charlotte and (ii) to avoid any controversy about its governance complicating the management and operation of the airport. We have shared these objectives with civic and business leaders in Charlotte and Raleigh and are encouraged that everyone we have talked to – including both supporters and opponents of the authority legislation – shares our view about the unique value of CLT airport to the community and the need to continue to cost effectively manage the airport.



US Airways confirmed Friday that an executive forwarded an email with draft legislation to create an independent airport authority – the first time the airline has acknowledged any involvement with the push to remove Charlotte’s airport from city control.

In a statement, the airline also said US Airways executives first learned of the push for an authority last summer, months before talk of an authority began to circulate widely. The statement said the airline grew concerned that longtime Aviation Director Jerry Orr, 72, might be forced out.

“We first became aware of interest in an airport authority last summer, when we were approached by some local business leaders who shared our concern about the potential forced retirement of Jerry Orr,” the company said in a statement.

The company said it met with the still-unnamed business leaders and reviewed a draft of the proposed bill with them. The company said it also forwarded the bill to another businessman “as a courtesy.”

The airline said it didn’t write the draft legislation – only that an executive passed along the draft from one business leader to another. The airline says it ultimately opted not to take any further role in the authority push, though it acknowledged talking about the bill with business leaders and state and local officials.

The statement illustrates the extent to which US Airways has attempted to intervene in Charlotte’s airport, its largest hub. And it largely corroborates an account by former City Council member and authority supporter Stan Campbell, who told the Observer this week that a US Airways official sent him an email with a draft for the bill to create an authority attached.

Earlier this week, the company had denied sending any such email, and chief executive Doug Parker told the Observer on Wednesday he wasn’t aware of any such message. On Friday, a company spokeswoman said she had misunderstood a previous question about the email and acknowledged it had been forwarded by a US Airways official from one businessman to another.

“We eventually elected to not join the effort to create an airport authority, because our issue is the management of the airport, not how it is owned,” the company said. The company said it also wanted to avoid any controversy that could complicate managing the airport. US Airways officials have said they are “agnostic” about how the airport is run, as long as costs stay low.

On Friday, Campbell said he appreciated the statement made by the airline. He said the email he received was from a US Airways official, but he didn’t know who wrote the legislation that was attached.

Low-cost airport

US Airways’ involvement in airport governance discussions has extended not only to reviewing legislation but also to its talks with city officials about a successor to Orr. The issue of succession at the airport has been a flashpoint in the authority fight because Orr is widely credited with keeping the airport’s costs low.

Charlotte Douglas has the lowest cost per passenger for airlines out of the top 25 U.S. airports. US Airways operates more than 600 daily flights from Charlotte Douglas, about 90 percent of the airport’s total.

To keep costs even lower, the airport has an agreement to split concessions revenue with the airlines. US Airways is the biggest beneficiary: Last year, US Airways received $10.4 million from the airport – largely offsetting the $17.6 million worth of fees the company paid Charlotte Douglas.

Cost has been an issue raised by authority supporters, who say that the city has driven up the costs of police at the airport since the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department took over law enforcement last year. City supporters have countered that the move to add police and more oversight was necessary due to lax policing.

In its statement Friday, US Airways said it was concerned the airport would lose its “successful, cost-effective model of airport management” if Orr were to leave. Authority supporters have said Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and former city manager Curt Walton pressured Orr to retire last year. Foxx has denied this and said he actually turned down Orr’s offer to retire.

Whoever controls the airport – the city or the authority – will likely choose the next aviation director. US Airways official Chuck Allen reportedly met with Walton last year to discuss Orr’s successor. According to multiple accounts, Walton and Allen disagreed over how much of a role the airline should have in the choice.

Parker, however, has said his airline expects to have a say in choosing Orr’s successor. Foxx has said he supports giving US Airways a seat at the table. Campbell notes that it’s a particularly sensitive issue for US Airways because Foxx is a candidate to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation, one of the company’s regulators.

Adding to the stakes: US Airways expects to complete its merger with American Airlines this year, creating the nation’s largest airline, with Charlotte as its second-largest hub.

Since its initial involvement with the airport authority’s unnamed supporters, US Airways said it has followed the legislation closely. The company said it has discussed the proposed bill with legislators, city officials and business leaders.

US Airways said it believes both those for and against the legislation share “our view about the unique value of CLT airport to the community and the need to continue to cost-effectively manage the airport.”

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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