The North Carolina Senate has passed a bill that could strip control of Charlotte Douglas Airport from the city council and end a year-long legal impasse in the state’s favor—all less than two days after the legislation became public.
For now, Charlotte’s city council still controls the airport, as they have for decades. A commission created last year by state lawmakers to take control is sitting on the sidelines while the city fights it in court.
Everyone—the council, state lawmakers, the commission, and the judge—is looking to the Federal Aviation Administration to decide who will be in charge, city or commission. The bill orders city leaders to do everything in their power to support the commission, including advocating for it to the FAA.
“What we’re trying to do is find a point of closure in this case, end the discord and move forward in allowing the airport to grow as an economic engine not only for the city, but for the region and the state,” said Senator Bob Rucho, a Mecklenburg County Republican and the bill’s sponsor.
Charlotte-Douglas is the nation’s sixth busiest airport, a major economic generator, and one of the key reasons national and international businesses come to the Charlotte area.
Senator Jeff Jackson, a Mecklenburg Democrat, argued the bill goes beyond the simple question of who manages the asset.
“The airport issue is about more than the airport. It’s about governance, it’s about trust,” said Jackson. “This bill was dropped on us yesterday. We had no idea that it was coming. We’re all very suspicious of any attempt of Raleigh to just get in the middle of this fight.”
The debate has generally fallen along partisan lines, with Democrats opposing and Republicans supporting the commission. Senators voted 31 to 18 to support the legislation, but not before Wake County Democrat Josh Stein voiced a technical objection to Senator Rucho. Stein pointed out the legislation is a “local bill,” meaning it does not require the governor’s signature to become law.
“My understanding is that when we take up local bills in the short session, they’re to be non-controversial,” Stein said. “What I’ve heard is a clear split among the Mecklenburg delegation. Why are you trying to bring this up given that reality?”
“The reality is we’re trying to put an end to the discord,” Rucho replied.
Charlotte mayor Dan Clodfelter opposes the legislation, but the city has not indicated if it will challenge the law should it pass. Airport commission chairman Robert Stolz has not responded to requests for comment.
The bill now moves to the House for consideration.