RALEIGH The push for a new Charlotte airport authority, which at one point appeared fast-tracked for passage, might be delayed until next legislative session.
N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley, the lead House sponsor of the authority measure, told the Observer on Tuesday that it could be headed to a study committee.
“We’re probably going to create a study of the airport,” said Brawley, a Mathews Republican. “We probably will not have an authority by the end of the session.”
The governance of Charlotte Douglas International Airport has emerged as a major battle of this session.
As recently as a few weeks ago, creation of an authority to take control of the airport from the city seemed likely by summer.
While a legislative study wouldn’t necessarily kill the bill, it could take it off the table for the current legislative session, now expected to end in July.
Supporters say by protecting the airport from political interference, an independent authority offers the best chance to keep it efficient and affordable for airlines such as US Airways, which has made it a major hub.
Charlotte officials say good management by the city has helped the airport grow into one of the busiest in the U.S.
Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee declined comment on the prospect of a legislative study for the airport authority bill.
“We need to see what they actually do,” he said Tuesday.
The current bill would create an 11-member authority. Already passed by the Senate, the measure had been awaiting action in the House Finance Committee.
Brawley said because lawmakers plan to change it to a study bill, no action is needed by the Finance Committee. As a result, the House on Tuesday moved it to the Rules Committee. No copy of a revised bill was available.
“Several people have assumed it means the bill is dead,” Brawley said. “It does not mean the bill is dead.”
Authority backers were encouraged this spring when a city-commissioned study concluded that an authority could offer the best long-term management for the airport.
But City Council members and Carlee have been outspoken in advocating for continued city control. City officials have made less-than-veiled threats of legal action, and Carlee has said the bill could create “chaos” at the airport.
Earlier this month, the City Council authorized its own wide-ranging study of airport governance, and what a change would mean.
In a memo to the council Tuesday, Carlee outlined a study he said would be led by Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble.
He said the team has decided to hire third-party consultants to help review issues including airport finance and security and employee benefits. The study, he said, is designed “to make improvements that will benefit Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its customers.”
Meanwhile, Carlee said he’s continuing to keep an eye on the legislature.
“I don’t think anybody really wants to harm the airport,” he said.
Brawley was asked whether the legislative study proposal meant there aren’t enough votes to pass an authority bill.
“The object here is not to win the vote,” he said. “The object is to improve and protect the airport.”
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