Raleigh, N.C. — Despite pleas from Charlotte's city manager and some Democratic lawmakers for more city-state discussions, the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday approved legislation that would shift control of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport from the city to a new regional authority.
The Senate has already approved the proposal, and the bill must still make it through the House Finance Committee before heading to a floor debate – and to Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, for consideration.
House sponsors amended the Senate version of the bill to state that the regional authority wouldn't be allowed to take over any existing airports or build any new facilities in its constituent counties without consent of local officials.
Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, said a consultant hired by Charlotte recently determined that a regional authority was the best long-term management structure for the airport. Also, a state logistics task force headed by then-Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton recommended regional authorities to oversee major inter-modal commerce hubs, such as the Charlotte airport.
Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee said, however, that the consultant's report said only that regional management would "likely" be the best option. The city is willing to address all issues raised by the consultant, he said, but not if the conclusion is predetermined.
"The city is prepared to take this to the next level but only requests that the end game not be presumed," Carlee told lawmakers. "Let the business case drive the right governance structure, and if in the end that's an authority, I can assure you ... the Charlotte City Council is prepared to accept the governance structure that would enable us, with assurance, to be the best-performing, lowest-cost airport going into the future."
Chuck Allen, director of government and community relations for US Airways, which has a hub in Charlotte, said the airline is less concerned with who runs the airport than how it is run.
"Our issue is the continued management philosophy of the airport. It is the lowest-cost airport because of the management philosophy," Allen said, noting that US Airways is taking no position on the legislation.
Rep. Beck Carney, D-Mecklenburg, whose husband served as the Charlotte airport's assistant aviation director before retiring last year, said city officials need to be given more of an opportunity to respond to the consultant report before the state steps in.
"I want to be able to support a strong, sound business move ... if that is the way our leaders – combined state and city leaders – want to go," Carney said.
Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, said she found the Charlotte City Council members she has talked to have no interest in working with lawmakers on the airport's future.
Carney asked that, if the proposal is approved, the effective date should be pushed back to handle transitional issues, such as shifting employee benefits from the city to the new authority.