Charlotte-Douglas airport’s calling card has long been low cost for airlines. CLT is the cheapest of the nation’s 25 largest airports for airlines to drop or collect passengers. The airport moves more passengers using less space than any other, and employs less than half the average number of employees. But, according to reports released today, that thriftiness is creating its own costs: mishandled contracts and payments from a lack of oversight.
An analysis by law firm Anderson & Kreiger found the airport undercharged the city’s Animal Control office, by more than $1 million in the last six years, for renting airport land for its office. Similarly, a CMPD helicopter hangar owed another $300,000. City officials plan to reimburse the airport in coming months, but Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle says the low rent is a symptom of a larger problem.
“This is a lack of administrative oversight, a lack of policies and procedures, and proper internal controls,” says Cagle.
Two other reports, from accounting firm McGladrey, revealed widespread problems with how the airport tracks contracts and payments. For instance, no one double checks sales figures from rental car companies, of which the airport gets a cut. In another case, employees could not find the contract with Continental Airlines for housekeeping services.
Cagle says the root of the problem is how fast the airport has grown, more than quadrupling in size since the early 1980s. For the about 200 contracts with airlines, shops, and construction crews, the airport has one dedicated employee.
“In an airport this large with as many revenue producing contracts as we have, it’s not best practice to say ‘hey—one person—manage that, and don’t let anything slip through the cracks,’” Cagle says.
Cagle says the airport is adding staff for a payments and contracts office, as well as upgrading software, to fix the problems. And he agrees with the reports’ findings, generally. That makes sense; he pushed for them, soon after taking over from long-time aviation director Jerry Orr last year. Orr is widely credited with nourishing CLT into the nation's sixth-busiest airport by keeping costs low. Cagle has pushed for more spending.
“You know, there’s kind of this underlying thought out there that in Charlotte you can’t increase the budget without the airlines viewing this as a threat, that maybe we’ll lose the—,” Cagle cuts himself off. “We increased the budget with the airlines' support. There is a way to do that.”
Earlier this year, Cagle raised parking rates, while the city council increased Charlotte-Douglas’s personnel budget 45 percent. Much of that was for bus drivers, who were being paid as temporary workers, although they work full-time. It also includes a new airport auditor. The reports provide ammunition the airport needs the new investment.