Sunday, November 16, 2014

City of Charlotte asks Federal Aviation Administration to rule on control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport (KCLT)

The city of Charlotte has taken a key step in resolving the dispute over ownership of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. On Friday, City Attorney Robert Hagemann sent a letter to the chief counsel of the Federal Aviation Administration asking the agency to determine whether the Charlotte Airport Commission, established by state legislation, meets federal requirements to operate Charlotte Douglas.

That action follows the Oct. 13 ruling by N.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin that only the FAA can determine who operates the airport. Ervin's ruling left the city in control of CLT.

No appeal of the ruling was filed by the deadline this week.

The N.C. General Assembly in legislation in 2013 and 2014 created the 13-member commission in an effort to remove city government from direct oversight of CLT. Ervin granted the city an injunction that kept CLT under city control. Since then, the commission has been formed and has held meetings without any authority.

"We have consistently stated from the beginning of this conflict that the attempted transfer was both unnecessary and poorly designed," Hagemann said in a statement. "The governance and management structures established by the legislation are confusing and internally inconsistent, and — in the opinion of our outside counsel — unacceptable under FAA standards."

The city provided the FAA with a written opinion from its outside counsel — Cambridge, Mass.-based Anderson Kreiger — that concluded the legislation does not satisfy necessary requirements.

"We hope that the FAA will bring an end to this dispute so that we can continue to focus our efforts on the operations and prosperity of the airport," Mayor Dan Clodfelter said in a statement.

The 29-page opinion from Anderson Kreiger contends the city cannot legally transfer control of the airport to the commission.

"Because we believe that the new governance structure for the Airport created by the Amended Commission Act does not comply with applicable law, we have grave concerns that any efforts by the City's representatives to secure for the Commission (the) right to control the Airport and to obtain FAA approval for the new governance structure would violate the City's own obligations as the sponsor of the Airport," the letter states.

The firm also stated that the structure for governance of the airport created in the state legislation does not comply with federal law.

"We believe that the Amended Commission Act establishes a governance structure for the Airport that is internally inconsistent, leaves open to question whether the Commission, the City, or both, are in control of the Airport, and fails to comply with the foundational requirement that there be no ambiguity regarding responsibility for compliance with applicable federal obligations," the letter says.

CLT ranks among the nation's 10 busiest airports and is home to American Airlines' second-largest hub.

The FAA has not commented on the issue since Ervin's Oct. 13 ruling.

An FAA spokesperson last month referred the Charlotte Business Journal to a letter sent by the agency in September to U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-N.C.). In the letter, the FAA states it will not consider any aspect of the Charlotte Douglas dispute until all lawsuits and court cases are resolved. And, the letter adds, only the owner of the airport and the holder of the current operating certificate — in this case, the city of Charlotte — would be able to trigger an analysis of transferring the operating certificate.

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