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On Charlotte airport, FAA gives Rep. Pittenger no answer and no timeline for a decision

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger met with the Federal Aviation Administration for an hour Wednesday, trying to get a firm date when the federal government will decide who will run Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

He left without an answer.

“I pressed the FAA,” said Pittenger, a Republican who represents the 9th Congressional District, which encompasses much of Charlotte. “Frankly, we all asked that in different ways at different times.”

Pittenger said that Christa Fornarotto, the federal agency’s associate administrator for airports, would only refer to a July 29 letter her office sent to Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee and N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper. That letter raised questions as to who would hold the operating certificate for the airport, and it became the linchpin of a Superior Court judge’s decision in August that pushed the question of the airport control onto the FAA.

Pittenger said he is neutral as to whether the city or a 13-member commission operates Charlotte Douglas. He said he asked for the meeting so the issue can be resolved.

Richard Vinroot, an attorney representing the newly-created commission, said he has been trying to engage the FAA for a month. In a letter to Fornarotto sent Monday, Vinroot said the FAA’s unwillingness to discuss the situation with commission is “astounding” and “unreasonable.”

The FAA is apparently only discussing the airport question with the city of Charlotte and the Attorney General’s office, which is representing the state.

In response to Vinroot’s letter, the agency sent the Observer a statement Tuesday stating: “The Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing the September 16 letter from the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Commission.”

Pittenger attended the Wednesday meeting with other members of Congress, including Republicans Mark Meadows of the 11th District, Virginia Foxx of the 5th District and George Holding of the 13th District.

The GOP-led N.C. General Assembly initially created an independent authority to own and operate Charlotte Douglas. Legislators then repealed that legislation and created a 13-member commission in August.

The commission would keep the city as the owner of the airport. The commission would be a part of the city of Charlotte, and the City Council and mayor would appoint seven of its members. It would be responsible for day-to-day airport operations and long-term plans, including hiring and firing.

The City Council and Mayor Patsy Kinsey oppose the commission.

Because the commission would be part of the city, Pittenger doesn’t think the FAA needs to be involved, he said.

“I never could get a clear answer from her on why they were involved,” Pittenger said. “(Fornarotto) started talking about other transfers. But that was apples and oranges – those were transfers. I felt this was a local and state issue and should be resolved there.”

Anthony Foxx, the former Charlotte mayor, is now U.S. secretary of transportation and oversees the FAA. He has said he will recuse himself from the Charlotte airport debate as well as all Charlotte-related topics for a year.

In an interview with the Observer on Tuesday, Vinroot said he is concerned that Foxx’s pledge was “maybe words and not actions.”

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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