BRADENTON, Fla. - Charlotte, N.C., is once again asking the Federal Aviation Administration to settle a lengthy governance dispute between local and state officials over operating Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
The city's request to the FAA on Nov. 14 came a day after a deadline expired for an appeal to be filed in its lawsuit challenging a law creating a state commission to take operation of the airport away from the city.
Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin ruled on Oct. 13 that the commission could not operate Charlotte Douglas until it obtained an operating certificate from the FAA. No appeal of the ruling was filed by the Nov. 13 deadline.
City Attorney Robert Hagemann said he requested a ruling from the FAA to resolve the matter.
"We have consistently stated from the beginning of this conflict that the attempted transfer was both unnecessary and poorly designed," Hagemann said. "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 hired the law firm of Cambridge, Mass.-based Anderson Kreiger LLP to provide a written opinion for the FAA to review. The firm concluded that the Legislature's amended law ordering the city to transfer its operating authority to the commission does not comply with federal law.
"We have grave concerns that an effort 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 firm said.
Anderson Kreiger also called the governance structure established by lawmakers "ambiguous, unworkable, and inconsistent with the requirements of federal law."
Charlotte has owned and operated the airport for more than 78 years. However, the Legislature passed a law in 2013 creating a commission to operate Charlotte Douglas.
The city filed suit saying that the law was unconstitutional, and the court blocked the law from becoming effective. Earlier this year, lawmakers amended the law in an attempt to settle the city's legal challenge.
The FAA had been requested once before to determine if the commission could run the airport, but the agency said it would not get involved until the suit was resolved.
Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter said "the city demonstrated exemplary stewardship under many mayors, city councils, and professional managers but the governance and management structure proposed in the legislation risked harm to the airport and damage to the city and region.
"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," Clodfelter added.
Charlotte has issued $838.2 million of debt for the eighth-busiest airport for passengers in the U.S. The bonds are rated Aa3 by Moody's Investors Service, and A-plus by Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's.