Save Money in this Sunday's paper

Our View

comments

FAA will rule, but we must protect airport

It was almost laughable to hear former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, representing a commission the N.C. legislature foisted on the city, complain last week that Charlotte officials might “game the system” to get the Federal Aviation Administration to slow or block transferring control of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport to that commission. Almost.

Vinroot’s lament was in response to a ruling from Mecklenburg Superior Court Judge John Ervin on Thursday. Ervin kept in place an injunction blocking the independent commission ordered in a bill the N.C. General Assembly passed a week ago in the final days of its session. Ervin ruled the commission can’t be implemented until the FAA, which expressed concerns about the arrangement in a recent letter, approves the airport’s operating certificate under the new set-up.

Vinroot, who also represents Jerry Orr, the airport’s director who either was fired or resigned, had pressed the judge to lift the order. He said it was essential that Orr be reinstalled at the airport – the legislation specifies him as the director – to ensure its continued success. Of the city, Vinroot said: “I think what they’ve decided to do is hang on to whatever thread they can. ... We want them to work with us to resolve things with the FAA.” Really?

It shouldn’t surprise Vinroot that the city is fighting the airport takeover tooth and nail. It was a battle that state lawmakers needlessly engaged to fix problems that didn’t exist. Sen. Bob Rucho’s surprise legislation in February to seize the airport from Charlotte – and give control and the assets to an independent, mostly state-appointed regional authority – started a sequence of events that has cost the city and state money and could jeopardize the future of the well-run, low-cost airport.

Look no further than Charleston to see the pitfalls of an independent airport authority. The airport director recently resigned following meddling and alleged verbal abuse by authority board members. That director, Sue Stevens, claims that some members engaged in unethical and possibly illegal conduct. Among the allegations? That members inappropriately got airport jobs for friends and were too involved in bids for airport contracts.

Most of the Charleston authority’s 13-member board is appointed by state legislators, and – surprise! – most of the members are elected officials or former politicians. The Charleston Post & Courier reports that the board is made up of a lot of people friendly to Charleston’s legislative delegation. S.C. legislators even passed a law to put legislators on the authority. That move is being challenged in court. Last week, the authority hired a new director, State Sen. Paul Campbell, who has no experience running airports and says he doesn’t need to resign from the legislature to do the job.

This is the model Rucho originally tried to ram through for Charlotte. Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed. But the commission approved by the N.C. legislature still poses risks to Charlotte’s long-time, smooth-running airport operation.

Unlike Charleston’s independently owned and run authority, Charlotte retains ownership of the airport and its land in the airport legislation. It also keeps the power of eminent domain and custody of the airport’s revenue bonds, which city leaders had said were at risk of default under the original bill that seized everything. But the independent commission would control day-to-day operations, including personnel decisions, finances and expansion plans. Looking at what’s happening in Charleston, that’s where the real potential for devilment clearly lies.

City and state policymakers disregard Charleston’s cautionary tale at their peril. Whatever the FAA decides, it’s still up to local and state leaders to ensure the continued success of one of the city’s and region’s best assets. We taxpayers, and voters, are watching to see if they do.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

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.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more



Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

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.

Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email local@charlotteobserver.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.

  Read more


Quick Job Search
Salary Databases
Your 2 Cents
Share your opinion with our Partners
Learn More