The Federal Aviation Administration said in a letter last week that it hasn’t considered the issue of who should control Charlotte Douglas International Airport because the city of Charlotte hasn’t made a formal request – something the City Council has said it has no interest in doing.
The FAA’s Sept. 18 letter was in response to a request by U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican. He has asked the federal government to make a decision as to who should control Charlotte Douglas.
The FAA said it hasn’t reviewed the application to transfer control because “the current airport sponsor (the city of Charlotte) has not requested that FAA transfer sponsorship.”
The fight over Charlotte Douglas started last year when the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a bill transferring control of the airport to a new, 13-member regional Airport Commission. The Democratic-controlled City Council has bitterly opposed that move and won a temporary injunction blocking the commission from running Charlotte Douglas.
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The FAA’s latest position upset Pittenger, who accused former Charlotte Mayor and U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, a Democrat, of “moving the goal posts.” The U.S. DOT oversees the FAA. Foxx, when he was mayor, adamantly opposed removing the airport from city control.
“Now he wants the city (to ask),” Pittenger said. “There is always some next reason why he can’t make a decision.”
An FAA representative didn’t return a request for comment Monday.
Despite more than a year of debate and legal wrangling, the battle for the airport is locked in a tug-of-war that shows no signs of being resolved.
Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin said last year that he wouldn’t make a ruling as to who should run the airport, saying the FAA should first decide who should control the airport. Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann told the Observer on Monday that a court hearing on the city’s case before Ervin has been scheduled for Oct. 10.
The FAA has previously said it wouldn’t rule on who holds the operating certificate until the lawsuit is resolved.
In an interview with the Observer earlier this month, Foxx said, “I think it behooves everybody to have the community decide.”
Asked whether a ruling from the FAA might come soon, Foxx said, “They are doing their work and when it’s done we’ll know about it.”
But the Sept. 18 letter from Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez suggests that there is little work being done to decide the airport issue.
“Moreover, even if the city were to make such a request of the FAA, FAA will refrain from evaluating the request, where, as here, the ownership and control of the airport remains the subject of an ongoing legal dispute,” Mendez wrote.
The federal government’s position suggests the controversy over control of Charlotte’s airport might not be settled by the FAA until after the Obama administration ends in January 2017, if then.
It’s possible a Republican presidential administration could be more sympathetic to the GOP-led General Assembly’s wishes for a commission in control. That couldn’t happen until after the next presidential election.
Last week the commission met, but couldn’t decide how to proceed in its lawsuit.
One faction of commissioners offered a motion to direct the group’s lawyer, Martin Brackett of Robinson Bradshaw & Hinson, to file a brief stating that they are the legal airport commission. That failed in a tie.
The other group, led by city of Charlotte appointees, supported a motion to direct Brackett to tell the judge that the commission wasn’t taking any stance on the legal issues. That also failed in a tie.