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Judge: CLT Airport Stays With City Until FAA Says Otherwise

Julie Rose

 It's up the Federal Aviation Administration to make the next move in the ongoing struggle for control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin says it's not the court's job to decide who is or is not entitled to run the Charlotte airport – that's the FAA's job. So, on Thursday, the court ordered the city of Charlotte to continue operating the airport until the FAA gives the newly-created airport commission a certificate to run Charlotte Douglas, or decides the commission can run the airport under the city's existing certificate.

Credit Julie Rose
Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann responds to media questions after the hearing.

  "What I take away is what we've been saying all along – that the legislature was not thoughtful in what it put into law," said Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann after the ruling.

The city argues that state lawmakers illegally pre-empted the FAA's authority in making their airport commission bill take effect immediately, rather than delaying it to allow federal approval.

Ousted airport director Jerry Orr says getting that approval shouldn't be hard: "That's up to the FAA, but our information is that it would take a very brief period of time."

Possibly just 24 hours, says Orr.

Judge Ervin has instructed the new commission – which at this point consists of Jerry Orr and the airport's existing advisory committee appointed by the city council and mayor – to go ahead and apply for the certificate.  

Earlier this week the FAA asked North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper to clarify the nature of the commission as either an agency of the city or a separate entity. The answer to that will determine who the FAA decides to certify as the airport's operator.

In any case, the commission will need the city's cooperation in providing information and documents to apply for the certificate, says attorney Richard Vinroot.

"And I think the city is going to try and do everything they can to keep Jerry Orr and this commission from doing what the legislature has asked them to do," said Vinroot.

Will the city let the commission run the airport if the FAA grants the certificate? Bob Hagemann says that's a "huge hypothetical assumption" at this point. And either way, he adds, the city can still pursue a lawsuit against the legislation.

WFAE reporters Duncan McFadyen and Julie Rose discuss the judge's ruling.