Final vote on Charlotte airport authority may be today

  • Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013 12:43 a.m.

RALEIGH (AP) — The North Carolina Senate is one vote away from taking Charlotte Douglas International Airport away from the city and turning over one of the country’s busiest airline hubs to a regional authority.

The Senate voted 32-16 on Wednesday to transfer management of US Airways’ top hub to the appointed body. The transfer would take place after a final Senate vote, which could come today.

Charlotte officials are warning they may file a lawsuit to challenge the state’s move.

Supporters say they want to ensure Charlotte-area businesses continue to enjoy the easy flight connections of a major airline hub. US Airways is close to merging with American Airlines and deciding where to place major operations.

Opponents say the city’s management has been prudent and efficient.

The House voted 75-39 Tuesday to hand management of US Airways’ top hub to a regional authority. Changes made by House lawmakers, including the transfer of the assets and management, still must be approved by the state Senate.

The plan does not require Gov. Pat McCrory’s approval to take effect because it is considered a local issue, and he cannot veto it.

Former mayor Anthony Foxx fought the move before becoming U.S. transportation secretary this month.

Advocates for the change say they want to protect the commerce that depends on the easy flight connections of a major airline hub. Banana giant Chiquita Brands International decided in 2011 to move its global headquarters from Cincinnati in part because of the greater access to foreign flights in and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

“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. They look ahead, prepare to avoid dangers and to capture opportunities,” said Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, a former county commissioner. “A smart business person recognizes that when her biggest customer, in this case US Airways, is undergoing a major reorganization impacting every factor of their business including hub locations, she needs to be well-positioned to capture that opportunity.”

Charlotte-area Democrats urged their Republican colleagues to reject the plan, the latest in a series of local disputes in which the Legislature’s GOP majority has intervened this year. Opponents of a takeover by a regional operating authority noted US Airways already enjoys some of the lowest operating costs in the country at Charlotte’s airport.

“We’ve started out with a conclusion and then tried to figure out how to jury-rig the structure to support that conclusion,” said Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg. “I appeal to you — you were elected to use your brains.”

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