Citizens Cite City's Role In Airport Success; Director Orr Disagrees

Apr 17, 2013

A city consultant and members of the Airport Governance Study Oversight Committee took public comment on the issue Wednesday night.
Credit Julie Rose

  "Don't fix what's not broken," was the theme of a small public hearing held last night by the consultant hired to delve into the ongoing struggle over control of the Charlotte airport. But Aviation Director Jerry Orr didn't quite agree with the views expressed at the meeting.

Most of us know about boarding passes, baggage claim and where to get a Cinnabon. . . but what do any of us really know about actually running an airport? 

And still, the city held a public hearing about that topic last night, hoping its consultant could gather additional insight into the current effort by state lawmakers to strip the airport from city control.  What that consultant heard was unanimous support for the city keeping its airport

"I'm not in a position personally to know what the best governance structure is and who should be in charge," admitted Mary Klenz. "But I do know that how this proposed change has come about is not good governance." 

"The (Charlotte) Douglas Airport has been guided by imaginative and forward thinking leadership from our mayors and councils – Ben Douglas, Stan Brookshire, John Belk, Eddie Knox, Ken Harris, Harvey Gantt and Anthony Foxx to name a few," said Nancy Wiggins.

And Allen Shaw added: " I just wanted to say the City of Charlotte has done an excellent job regarding this facility.  Matter of fact, in my opinion, when Mr. Orr decides to retire, there should be something of prominence at that airport named in his honor."

So it went for about 45 minutes – 10 people speaking in an audience of about 25.  

Aviation Director Jerry Orr (middle) listens to public comment on the proposal to place the airport under control of a regional authority.
Credit Julie Rose

On the back row, arms folded high across his chest, sat Jerry Orr – the city's long-time aviation director. He has previously been clear about his preference that the airport be overseen by an authority rather than the city council. But since the current controversy erupted, Orr has kept those views to himself at the request of city officials with whom he disagrees.

Orr attended the hearing last night just to "see what was going on." And the impassioned praise for the city's involvement in the airport left him cold.

"I'm sure they mean well, but they were a little factually off," said Orr after the meeting.

Contrary to several claims made during the public hearing, Orr says Charlotte tax dollars have not paid for airport construction. Nor has the city's strong bond rating helped the airport borrow money more cheaply. 

And Orr prefers not to be lumped in with the mayor and council when people talk about successful leadership of the airport.

He doesn't see himself as part of the city: "I see myself as part of the airport."

Which is a business first and foremost, says Orr, that just happens to be owned and operated by the city.   

At least for now.