Panel of Airline Executives Stops Recording its Orlando Airport Meetings

March 10, 2006
The meetings are not open to the public under Florida's open meetings law because they do not include Greater Orlando Aviation Authority board members.

Mar. 9--The committee of airline executives who have veto power over a portion of Orlando International Airport's $300 million budget will no longer tape record its meetings after the Orlando Sentinel requested some of the tapes.

The meetings are not open to the public under Florida's open meetings law because they do not include Greater Orlando Aviation Authority board members -- who are appointed by the governor and subject to Florida's Sunshine laws -- and do not make official recommendations to the Authority board.

The Authority controls policies and the budgets at Orlando International and Orlando Executive airports.

But historically the committee's meetings have been recorded as well as documented in official minutes that are open to public review because the records are held by the Authority.

At the most recent meeting of the Airlines/Airport Affairs Committee last week, a decision was made to stop recording the meetings.

"It was the request of the chairman of that committee that there be no tapes of that meeting," said airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell, who described the committee as an "industry" group.

Randy Gillespie, properties manager for Southwest Airlines, was elected as chairman of the committee in January. He took over from a Delta Air Lines executive who gave up the post, which is traditionally held by the airline with the largest market share at the airport.

"The meetings of the AAAC are private because much of the information discussed is proprietary," said Southwest spokeswoman Marilee McInnis. "The material discussed in the meetings can be sensitive in nature, which is why the meetings are closed and not open to the public. With that in mind, the decision to stop recording the meetings had been under consideration for a while."

The Feb. 28 meeting was the committee's first since the Orlando Sentinel requested and listened to meeting tapes in January under Florida's open records law.

In addition to airline representatives, the meetings are attended by senior staff of the Aviation Authority, who make recommendations to the Authority board.

Because the so-called signatory airlines that make up the committee also have oversight over the airport's budget, policies and financial issues of major significance are often discussed at the meetings.

Recent topics include Walt Disney World's Magical Express service, which transports tourists and their bags between the resort and the airport. The service has been controversial since it began last year because it has affected the revenue of other services such as rental cars and taxis at the airport.

The committee also has discussed negotiations between the airport and airlines about space and equipment leases. In 2008, the airlines' 30-year leases expire, and the financial arrangements between the airlines and the airport are expected to change significantly.

Beth Kassab can be reached at [email protected] or 407-420-5448.