Airport Advisory Committee In The Dark About 'Authority' Debate

Mar 7, 2013

The Airport Advisory Committee at its monthly meeting, February 2013.
Credit Julie Rose

A bill to place the Charlotte Airport under the control of a regional authority – rather than the city of Charlotte – has been delayed another week so lawmakers can gather more information on its potential impact. On Tuesday, the airport's own advisory committee acknowledged it, too, is in the dark about what such a change might mean. 

Once a month 11 volunteers appointed by the mayor and city council meet to basically rubber stamp Aviation Director Jerry Orr's spending plans. Orr's real bosses are the city manager and council.

The Airport Advisory Committee "is purely advisory," says Orr. "They vote, but it is a non-binding vote."

And they rarely do much in the way of questioning or proposing new ideas at their monthly meetings with Orr. 

But with the future of airport management now up for debate, the advisory committee is feeling a little hamstrung about its ability to even advise on the issue. They agreed to hold a special meeting with airport staff and explore the topic, after committee member Scott Culpepper brought up his concerns.

"The city council and mayor - I know I've had conversations with both - and they look to us for our opinion on this," said Culpepper. "Right now we've been given very little information."

That's partly because Jerry Orr has been asked by his bosses over at City Hall to keep quiet. He used to speak freely about the advantages he sees in having an airport overseen by a dedicated authority, rather than a city council with lots of other stuff on its plate.

The mayor and city council disagree and are trying to halt the momentum of the airport authority bill.

After 25 years running the Charlotte Airport, Orr certainly has a take on how the transition to a regional authority might affect things. But will he share that insight when the Airport Advisory Committee meets to study the issue in the coming weeks?  

"You know that depends on the direction I get, but certainly I can answer their question," says Orr, dryly.

And anyone who's played the schoolyard game "Mother May I?" knows the difference between can and may.