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Attorney says new Charlotte airport commission rebuffed by FAA

The newly created Charlotte Airport Commission believes it’s getting the cold shoulder from the FAA.

The commission, which is trying to persuade the federal government that it should run Charlotte Douglas International Airport, said the FAA won’t listen to its position and called the administration’s actions “unreasonable.”

In a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday, the attorney for the commission, Richard Vinroot, said the federal government has taken the “astounding step” of “refusing to engage the Commission in any discussions regarding the airport.”

The letter details what Vinroot describes as fruitless attempts to talk to the FAA.

Jerry Orr – who is now the executive director of the commission – sent the FAA a letter on Aug. 14, in which he outlined reasons why the commission should be allowed to run the airport.

In his Tuesday letter, Vinroot, a former Charlotte mayor, said he waited two weeks. After receiving no response from the FAA, Vinroot said he arranged a conference call with FAA officials on Aug. 29.

But that phone call apparently frustrated him.

“In that call, you refused the Commission’s request that it be included in efforts to work through the regulatory process,” Vinroot wrote to Christa Fornarotto, associate administrator for airports with the FAA. “On Sept. 4, I sent you a letter in behalf of the Commission asking that the FAA reconsider this unreasonable position. To this date, there has been no response.”

Asked for comment, the FAA released a statement saying the administration “is reviewing the Sept. 16 letter from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Commission.”

The N.C. General Assembly passed a law in July that shifted ownership and control of the airport to an authority. The city sued to block that law and received a temporary restraining order in Superior Court.

When Superior Court Judge Robert Sumner granted the city a temporary restraining order, Vinroot said at the time he thought the city would attempt to “game the system.”

In an interview Tuesday, Vinroot said “I now believe I was right.”

Foxx says he’ll recuse himself

Former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, who opposed the legislature’s efforts to remove city control of the airport, is now the U.S. secretary of transportation. He oversees the FAA.

Foxx has said he will recuse himself from the airport debate as well as other Charlotte-specific decisions for one year.

Vinroot said he is concerned that Foxx might be influencing the FAA.

“I took at him at his word (when he said he would recuse himself),” Vinroot said. “But now I am concerned, that those were maybe words and not actions.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. DOT didn’t return an email from the Observer Tuesday.

In July, legislators then repealed the authority legislation and created a new 13-member commission to run Charlotte Douglas. Under the commission legislation, the city would retain ownership of the airport’s assets.

In early August, the city got a Superior Court judge to issue an injunction blocking the law’s implementation until the FAA rules which party can run the airport – the city or the commission.

Dealing with the FAA

The Observer obtained Vinroot’s letter from a public records from the city of Charlotte. The FAA forwarded the letter to the city Monday.

Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann, who is representing the City Council’s position to block the commission, said he has spoken with the FAA a few times on the phone since August. He said none of the phone calls included Vinroot, Orr or anyone representing the commission.

He said he couldn’t comment on the FAA’s decision-making process.

“I don’t know when the process will wrap up,” Hagemann said. “It’s their process, and I’m being respectful of it.”

Vinroot said the FAA has said it will only talk with the city of Charlotte and the N.C. Attorney General’s Office. In mid-August, Special Deputy Attorney General Marc Bernstein said a new commission would not entail a transfer of airport control from the city of Charlotte to a new entity.

The legislation calls for the City Council and the Charlotte mayor to appoint seven members of the 13-person commission by Oct. 1. Council members are reportedly debating whether to make the appointments.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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