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Charlotte Airport Commission meets Thursday with future in flux

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Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Aviation Director Jerry Orr speaks with reporters July 18. Despite a last-ditch effort to avoid it, lawmakers created a new Charlotte airport authority in less than 60 seconds this summer, throwing the issue immediately into a court fight.

More Information

  • Non-ruling puts airport commission deeper in limbo
  • Cagle focused on airport growth amid controversy
  • Jerry Orr's quiet war for the airport
  • Average airfare drops slightly at CLT
  • Want to go?

    The Charlotte Airport Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday in Room 267 at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, 600 East Fourth Street.

    Average fare drops slightly at CLT

    The average cost of a round-trip ticket for a domestic flight from Charlotte Douglas International Airport fell less than one percent in the second quarter compared to one year ago, according to federal data released Wednesday.

    Passengers paid an average of $405.58 for a domestic, round-trip ticket from Charlotte Douglas, down 0.7 percent from the second quarter of last year. Charlotte Douglas ranked as the 34th most expensive airport to fly from out of the nation’s top 100 airports.

    The average price for a ticket from Charlotte Douglas was down 16.5 percent compared to the same quarter in 2000, adjusted for inflation. But the ticket price doesn’t include fees that have proliferated since 2008, such as fees for checked bags and seats with extra legroom.

    The average domestic, round-trip ticket was $377.56 nationally. Charlotte Douglas’ cost was 7.4 percent higher than that average.

    Charlotte Douglas is US Airways’ busiest hub, with the carrier accounting for almost 90 percent of daily flights. The cost to fly from Charlotte Douglas was on the high end for a US Airways hub: Tickets at Washington Reagan National averaged $367.24, and tickets at Phoenix Sky Harbor International averaged $346.86. Tickets at Philadelphia International Airport averaged $405.65, about the same as Charlotte Douglas.

    The most expensive airport out of the top 100 in the U.S. was again in Huntsville, Ala., where domestic, round-trip tickets averaged $547.49. The least expensive was Atlantic City, with an average of $159.41.

    Ely Portillo



The new, independent commission set up to run Charlotte Douglas International Airport is set to meet for the first time Thursday night, but without the power to actually run the airport.

The 13 members, many of whom haven’t met each other, will take their oath of office, get an update on the legal fight surrounding the airport, and elect a chairperson. Executive director Jerry Orr, Charlotte’s former aviation director, told the Observer he plans to give the members an introduction to the airport operations.

“I’ll make a brief presentation to them with some slides, give them an overview of what we do at the airport and how we do it,” said Orr. He lost his city job overseeing the airport this summer, after the N.C. General Assembly passed a law transferring control of Charlotte Douglas from City Council to a new authority.

Under the law, Orr was named executive director of the airport commission, and is still receiving his $211,000 annual salary.

Making an odd situation even odder: The commissioners will meet in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center, in a room typically used by City Council, which is spearheading the fight against them. Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee’s office worked with the commission to help schedule the meeting.

Of the 13 members, seven were appointed by the Charlotte mayor and city council, and one each was appointed by Mecklenburg and the five surrounding counties.

Some members of the airport commission said they didn’t expect to accomplish too much business at their first meeting.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Chad Brown, a Gaston County commissioner. “There’s still no clear answer to who’s going to be in charge of the airport.” He said Thursday’s meeting could be “more of a meet-and-greet.”

Lanny Lancaster, a real estate agent and airplane appraiser from Cabarrus County, said he plans to treat Thursday’s meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the airport.

One of the few powers the commission isn’t blocked from using is the power to hire, set the pay for and fire its executive director. Lancaster said he hopes the board decides to keep Orr as its executive director for the foreseeable future.

“I feel Jerry, as of right now, needs to definitely stay to lead us through this transition,” he said. “Doing away with him...would be a foolish move.”

No easy fight

After the General Assembly transferred airport control to the commission in July, Orr and commission attorney Richard Vinroot predicted a quick transition. They and expected the Federal Aviation Administration could certify them to run the airport within days.

But the battle has bogged down in court, and both the FAA and a Superior Court Judge have said they’re not able to make key decisions about whether the commission can run Charlotte Douglas.

Immediately after the law was passed, the city sued to block the commission from exercising most of its powers. A judge granted the city a temporary injunction, until the FAA decided whether to give the commission a certificate to operate the airport.

The FAA deferred the question back to the judge. Last week the judge referred it back to the FAA.

Another hearing is scheduled for December. It’s unclear when the commission might receive approval to run Charlotte Douglas.

If Orr and the commission win their legal battle, Orr will return to run the airport. Orr, 72, has said he’ll retire by June 2015.

For now, Charlotte Douglas remains an independently-funded city department, owned by the city and under the direction of interim aviation director Brent Cagle. The city would retain ownership of the airport property, but not control of its operations, under the commission bill.

Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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