Both sides of the Charlotte airport power struggle are cheering a move by the FAA to essentially punt the issue back to the courts. That means, for now, the airport stays under the city's control.
Who's the boss – the city or the airport commission? Answering that question has become a hot potato: The court kicked it to the FAA, which asked the Attorney General's office for clarification. The AG's office lobbed it back without much clarity, so the FAA has now tossed the issue back to the court with one big question mark: Is the airport commission an agency of the city, or is it a separate entity?
Until the court decides, the FAA says the airport is the city's game and the commission stays on the bench. That has the city claiming a "major victory," while the commission's attorney Richard Vinroot says, "not so fast."
"I think the questions (the FAA) pose are correct questions and they are frankly easily answered by the legislation itself," says Vinroot. "I regard the letter as a real positive step toward ultimate resolution of this matter in favor of the existence of the commission and its ability to operate the airport pursuant to the legislation."
Vinroot points to the first section of the bill which reads: "There is created the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Commission, which shall be an agency of the City." As an agency of the city, Vinroot says the commission can operate the airport without any transfer of authority – meaning the FAA won't have to issue any new permits or powers.
But City attorney Bob Hagemann says the bill is not that clear: "I can point to language in the bill that I believe supports the argument it is a separate legal entity. The bill is littered with ambiguities and contradictory language and it's the reason why we're in court arguing about, 'what exactly did the legislature create?'"
The city's lawsuit alleges the legislation is unconstitutional because lawmakers crafted it as a local bill that did not require the governor's signature. During initial hearings, Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin seemed more interested in the city's argument that lawmakers skirted FAA authority in establishing the airport commission.
Now that the FAA is punting, back to Judge Ervin, the airport battle is likely months from resolution.