May 21--The Federal Aviation Administration has yet to decide whether a new, independent commission should run Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and the federal agency has not responded to a letter last month from congressional representatives asking for a decision.
It's been 10 months since the N.C. General Assembly passed a law creating the commission. Charlotte sued to block the new group. The FAA hasn't said whether the 13-member commission needs a new operating certificate to run the airport or whether it can take over from Charlotte City Council immediately.
Without that ruling from the FAA, an N.C. Superior Court judge has said he can't make any decisions in the city's case against the commission -- leaving the lawsuit, and the airport's governance, in limbo.
Hoping to get a decision, eight representatives from North Carolina's congressional delegation and one from South Carolina sent the FAA's associate administrator for airports a letter on April 17.
"A decision by the FAA is needed to break the logjam," they wrote, saying that the airport needs clarity to move ahead with its $1 billion expansion plan. "Without a decision from the FAA allowing the commission to move forward, that (airport expansion) program and -- more importantly -- the passengers and citizens who depend on the airport will be left in limbo."
Jamie Bowers, spokesman for Rep. Robert Pittenger, said the FAA hasn't replied.
"At this point, we have not yet received any sort of response," said Bowers. "We're not picking sides as to who should be in charge of the airport, but the FAA needs to make a decision."
Bowers said the agency's delay in responding is odd.
"At this point, the FAA is not even getting back to a congressman, which is fairly unusual," said Bowers. "Normally you at least hear back, even if the answer is unfavorable."
Commission Chairman Robert Stolz sent the FAA a letter in February asking for a decision. Stolz told the Observer that he hasn't received a response from the FAA either.
"It's just incredibly disappointing that we're still having these same conversations now, months and months after this commission was appointed," said Stolz. "I really think government can work better than this."
Stolz said it's time for the FAA to issue a ruling. "We just need to get the whole issue resolved," he said.
FAA spokeswoman Marcia Adams confirmed the agency has received the congressional letter. But Adams didn't answer questions about whether the FAA has a timeline for when it will respond, or when it will make a decision on the commission.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who was Charlotte mayor before he was appointed secretary, has said that he recused himself from all Charlotte-related issues. He hasn't commented on the airport commission.
When the General Assembly created the commission, they said it was necessary to protect the airport from meddling by city politicians. Charlotte officials said the move was a power grab by Republican legislators.
For now, the airport commission is meeting regularly but remains prohibited from exercising any power. Charlotte Douglas remains an independently funded city department, reporting to the City Council and the city manager. Staff writer Steve Harrison contributed
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