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Jerry Orr To Retire, Calls For End To Charlotte Airport Battle

Julie Rose / WFAE News

The city’s long-time, recently-ousted aviation director, Jerry Orr, is relinquishing all authority over Charlotte Douglas airport. Orr announced last night he is retiring as executive director of the Charlotte Airport Commission, to help extinguish the lengthy legal battle between city and state lawmakers over who will control Charlotte’s airport.

Jerry Orr ran Charlotte Douglas International Airport with relative autonomy from 1989 until this July. When the City of Charlotte began taking a more active role in the airport’s management, most notably appointing CMPD to handle security, state lawmakers created the airport commission to take over, with Orr at the helm. That was in July. In response, the city ousted Orr as its aviation director and began what has become a lengthy legal battle against the commission. Orr says it is time to end the fight.

“The ongoing dispute between the commission and the city, concerning the commission’s right to manage and operate Charlotte needs to be resolved,” Orr said. “It needs to be resolved now.”

And, Orr said, if he is an obstacle, he is getting out of the way. Orr also reiterated his belief that the commission, not City Council, should run the airport.

It is not entirely clear what the commission itself favors. The state created it, but the city council appointed most of the members. So far, Chairman Robert Stolz, a city appointee, has taken a cautious approach that promotes cooperation. Stolz says he did not ask Orr to retire, and he has retained the commission’s outside legal team, which is opposing the city’s lawsuit. Stolz says he pictures a settlement.

“The city and the state come together, put together some type of settlement that they can both agree on, and then they go to the legislature and present it to them,” Stolz said.

In the meantime, Stolz said the commission is trying to integrate with the city, which would ease the transition whenever it is decided who ends up in control. To that end, the commission voted interim aviation director Brent Cagle to replace Orr as executive director, when his retirement becomes effective at the end of the year—meaning Cagle will have both top jobs.

In another demonstration of cooperation, Cagle attended the meeting and updated commission members on airport operations.

“Mr. Stolz called me and requested a briefing,” Cagle said. “I think it’s a good idea for the commission to understand what development projects are moving forward and what are challenges are into the future.”

After the announcement of his resignation, both Orr and Stolz seemed interested in removing any bad blood, which has formed between the city and commission. Stolz paid tribute to Orr’s tenure at the airport, which saw Charlotte Douglas become the nation’s sixth-largest airport and one of the lowest cost.

“Jerry Orr has built this airport. We owe him a tremendous amount of gratitude,” Stolz said.  I will also tell you my hope and certainly what I told him as we met during this process was when I have a question, when I have an issue, I’ll be calling.”

Orr said he would answer that call.

“If the new commission needs any help from me in the future, in whatever capacity that I may assist them in their work, I will be happy to try to do so,” Orr said.

Despite the talk of cooperation and a possible settlement, a resolution is not near. State officials, who were not present, would need to agree to a settlement, and the legislature would potentially need to vote on any agreement.

For now, the city remains in control of the airport, because a judge has temporarily blocked the commission from taking over. There are currently no hearings scheduled in the lawsuit, but both the city and the commission are continuing to pay their lawyers.