Still more punting going on in the fight for control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport: A Superior Court judge today refused to weigh-in on questions posed by federal regulators about the nature of the commission lawmakers created to run the airport.
As Judge Robert Ervin put it in court today: Why does the Federal Aviation Administration care what "some fool judge" thinks? "Because there's nothing to keep the FAA from looking at any declaration this court makes and saying, 'So what?'"
Ervin says North Carolina courts are not in the practice of giving advisory opinions to federal agencies.
But that's basically what the FAA asked for in a September 26th letter to the city. Is the commission an agency of the city or a separate entity? And does the commission have the authority to operate the airport on the city's behalf? The FAA said in its letter that until the court answers those questions, it couldn't make any change to airport governance.
"Yes, I was frustrated," said the commission's attorney Richard Vinroot, after the court hearing. "I wanted the judge, badly, to answer those two – it seemed to me – obvious, easy questions."
Vinroot says the legislation creating the commission clearly makes it an agency of the city with authority to operate the airport. He says the judge's decision to "punt" plays right into the city's strategy of delaying any FAA action regarding the airport.
You got that right, says Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann: "Today was a huge victory for the city. The city has the keys to the car. Our goal is to keep the keys to the car and we are going to use litigation – appropriately so, within the rules for litigation – to keep the keys to the airport. Nobody should be surprised by that."
That will include vigorously fighting the commission's next legal move to try and get the city's lawsuit thrown out
But even then, the fate of the airport commission will rest entirely in the hands of federal regulators who have been in no hurry to endorse any change in control of Charlotte Douglas.