How to get airport fix jump-started

When two parties disagree, they can take their dispute to court. But what happens if the judge refuses to rule?

The Charlotte Douglas International Airport mess happens.

The N.C. legislature last year passed a law stripping control of the airport from the city of Charlotte and giving it to a commission. The city sued to block the law from taking effect.

The case went before Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin more than a year ago. And there it sits today, little closer to resolution. Ervin decided in August 2013 that he couldn’t rule on the law’s legitimacy until the Federal Aviation Administration announced whether it would be OK with the new commission running the airport. But the FAA responded that it couldn’t act until the judge ruled.

We’ve been on the hamster wheel ever since.

The FAA, in a letter to U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger that became public this week, makes clear it won’t be the one to stop the wheel. If Charlotte asked the FAA to consider transferring airport control to the commission, the “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,” deputy U.S. transportation secretary Victor Mendez wrote.

Mendez gave a laughable initial excuse for the FAA’s inaction: That the city hasn’t asked the FAA to transfer control of the airport to the commission. Of course it hasn’t. But the FAA is right to let the legal process play out before jumping in. Judge Ervin should decide the legality of the legislature’s maneuver, then the FAA can and should rule on whether the commission meets all the federal requirements of an airport sponsor.

Until then, one of the biggest drivers of the Charlotte region’s economy dangles in limbo, its ultimate governance a mystery. Outside legal bills mount all the while, and taxpayers are now on the hook for more than $550,000 on the city’s side alone.

We, like most observers of this soap opera, would love to see it resolved amicably, out of court. Gov. Pat McCrory and former Mayor Patrick Cannon were apparently close to a compromise when Cannon was indicted and the talks fell apart. There’s been no indication since then that the two sides are close – or even talking. Sen. Bob Rucho, a commission advocate, seems to be digging in his heels, and McCrory and current Mayor Dan Clodfelter have had no recent talks, a mayoral spokeswoman said last week. We’d like that to change, but after nearly two years of wrangling, it’s hard to imagine any compromise, particularly one that is fair to the city.

Ervin has scheduled a hearing in the case for Oct. 10. He should make a ruling and provide the direction both sides need. It’s time for the judge to judge.