BRADENTON, Fla. - Charlotte, N.C. is again in court fighting passage of a second bill by the state General Assembly transferring Charlotte Douglas International Airport's operations from the city to a 13-member commission. The first bill was repealed.
In a lawsuit filed July 30, attorneys for Charlotte argue that the bill creating the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Commission as an "agency" of the city to run the airport is unconstitutional and contradicts the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration to license airports.
The Legislature passed the bill as a local act, not as a general law requiring the governor's approval or rejection, the suit said. The FAA has called the airport's sponsorship into question.
"The FAA has conducted a preliminary review of Senate Bill 380," said a July 29 letter to the city and signed by Christa Fornarotto, the FAA's associate administrator for airports. "We have several concerns about the legislation, including whether it conforms to federal law."
Fornarotto said until the FAA determines if the new commission is eligible to carry out the federal obligations required of sponsors that Charlotte remains the sponsor of the airport's operating certificate.
The FAA also has requested that a legal opinion be sought from the state attorney general establishing who is the sponsor within the meaning of the new bill, and if the new commission can operate without interference from Charlotte, which remains the airport's landowner.
"The city has run the airport for almost 80 years now and built it into one of the best in the country," said Charlotte Mayor Patsy Kinsey. "The state legislature in Raleigh, however, has passed legislation that would change the level of oversight the city has over the airport and the city has challenged that legislation in court."
A court hearing on the new lawsuit challenging SB 380 was held Aug. 1 with the judge issuing a preliminary injunction that leaves Charlotte in control of the airport until the FAA reaches a final decision on the status of the airport’s operating certificate. The city is also seeking a permanent injunction.
“It would be irresponsible to be dismissive or cavalier about compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations and financial implications of this highly complex and unique piece of legislation,” Kinsey said after the preliminary ruling. “We must take care not to put any aspect of the airport at risk.”
Charlotte has $694 million of senior-lien airport revenue bonds outstanding that are rated A-plus by Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's, and Aa3 by Moody's Investors Service.