Thanks to a judge’s temporary restraining order, a regional transportation authority’s takeover of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport has been put on hold. This action blocks the law passed just hours before by the North Carolina State Senate that ordered the transfer of the world’s sixth-busiest airport to an independent authority, ending the city’s 70-year control.
The controversy surrounding the airport can be traced back to an incident in 2010 when a high school student slipped past airport security and “climbed into the wheel well of a US Airways flight bound for Boston“. The teen’s body was found the next day. The city’s response to the tragedy was to strip airport authorities of controlling its security, handing it over to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. After a year of disagreement among Charlotte’s police and airport officials, the city hired a consulting firm to determine who could most effectively control the airport. The firm ultimately reported that the best option would be an independent authority.Proponents of the transfer contend that “they want to protect the commerce that depends on the easy flight connections to a major airline hub“. Says Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, “The airport is not like regular city departments. It really is a business. And smart business people don’t wait until the system is broken before they fix it.”The pending merger between US Airways and American Airlines and their choice of a major operation site creates an attractive opportunity for advocates of the change. Adds Samuelson, “A smart business person recognizes that when [their] biggest customer, in this case US Airways, is undergoing a major reorganization impacting every factor of their business, including hub locations, [they need] to be well-positioned to capture that opportunity.”However, critics of the change argue that “US Airways already enjoys some of the lowest operating costs in the country” at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Reflecting the rift between the City of Charlotte and the North Carolina State Legislature, Charlotte Mayor Patsy Kinsey stated, “The citizens of Charlotte built that airport, Raleigh didn’t.”Since the Republicans gained control of the legislature in the 2010 midterm elections, there has been a persistent battle between the GOP’s pro-business, pro-growth policies and the Charlotte City Councils’ looking out for its own local interests. The airport controversy is just one of the disagreements between the state and city governments, often seen as a rural vs. urban conflict.