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Airport bill taking off despite caution lights

First, an independent consultant said an N.C. Senate bill taking away Charlotte’s control of its own airport needed big changes. Then House Speaker Thom Tillis suggested the same thing.

You’d have better luck changing a non-refundable ticket. The Senate bill, it appears, has merely a short layover in the House.

On Tuesday, a House committee approved an extremely similar version, even though almost no one had read it in its entirety – not Charlotte’s City Council, not City Manager Ron Carlee, not even the committee members themselves. They saw the revised bill for the first time moments before lawmakers began debating it and 45 minutes before voting on it.

The legislation hands Charlotte Douglas International Airport over to an 11-member authority. One member would be appointed by the City Council. One would be appointed by the mayor. One would be appointed by Mecklenburg County commissioners. The other eight would be appointed by groups outside of Mecklenburg.

The bill provides no transition period whatsoever. Everything about the airport would shift to the authority’s control the moment the bill becomes law. Any unsettled issues, bill sponsor Rep. Bill Brawley said Tuesday, would be worked out between the city and the authority. Who we are sure will be best chums.

“I think the airport is going to end up in chaos,” Carlee told the Observer editorial board Tuesday. “They really are putting the airport at risk here. I think it’s going to be highly problematic.”

Bob Hazel, a former US Airways executive and a consultant hired by the city to analyze the idea, recommended an authority. He did so despite acknowledging the airport had been “spectacularly successful” under city management and that problems were “readily fixable” without creating an authority. He also urged legislators to give Charlotte and Mecklenburg a bigger presence on the authority, and said the Senate bill “does not provide best industry practices for a properly structured airport authority, nor for a smooth transition to an airport authority.”

Tillis, for his part, told a Charlotte Chamber group last month that he wouldn’t “put much stock in” parts of the Senate bill and said Charlotte “obviously” needs “a very weighted presence” on the authority.

Obviously. But it didn’t happen.

Legislators and city officials are fed up with each other. Legislators offered to create a study committee that would include City Council members and would analyze how best to make an authority happen. Carlee and City Council members see that as throwing in the towel. They want a committee of local business leaders and others to study every aspect of the airport and determine what type of governance would be most effective.

There’s room for compromise here. Both sides say they are open to slowing this bill down and ensuring that any changes are best for the airport and the region.

It’s imperative that they do so. The airport, the world’s sixth busiest, is too important to this region and its economy to do anything else.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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