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Airport Advisory Committee Gets Active In Authority Debate

orr airport advisory meeting.jpg
Julie Rose

The Charlotte Airport's volunteer advisory committee has turned a new leaf. Their monthly meeting on Thursday featured far more discussion and direct questioning of Aviation Director Jerry Orr.

Not since members of the Airport Advisory Committee sang "For he's a jolly good fellow!" to Orr back in January have this many members made so much as a peep in a monthly meeting. (The occasion was Orr's selection as the Charlotte Business Journal's "Business Person of the Year.")

Historically, these advisory committee meetings have been short, rubber-stamping sessions before Orr takes his requests to the city council. But things have changed since Mayor Foxx removed the committee's chairman, Shawn Dorsch, last week for working behind the scenes to advance the airport authority legislation.

That move has clearly shaken the remaining members of the advisory committee. They've taken no formal position on the issue – or even discussed it - in any of their meetings.

But as departing jets rumbled over head Thursday morning, the committee peppered Orr with questions about basic airport finance, the city's role in issuing airport revenue bonds. Committee member Scott Culpepper challenged Orr to explain why it's worth switching to an independent authority if it would open the airport to possible lawsuits from bondholders.

"As we take on that risk, what is the payoff for us?" queried Culpepper.

"Well, the pay off is the authority running the airport and cutting out lots of layers of management," said Orr. "Higher efficiency, lower cost of doing business - most of what you attribute to quickness."

The committee's vice chairman, Drew Riolo, seemed pleased with the more animated interaction.

"This is exactly what we want to do with this meeting," said Riolo. "I encourage all of the members to do exactly what we did: to have a discussion of this; to challenge the director on this; to get this information back."

Riolo also encouraged members of the committee to request special meetings on additional aspects of airport governance. 

But their active interest comes a bit late for the airport authority debate. A city-paid consultant has concluded that a properly structured airport authority is the best option for Charlotte.  State lawmakers who back the creation of an airport authority pledge their bill will pass this session.