North Carolina judge blocks commission pushed by lawmakers from taking over Charlotte airport

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — A North Carolina judge said Monday that the city — not a commission created by GOP lawmakers — will run one of the nation's busiest airports while both sides wait for a federal agency's ruling on the issue.

Superior Court Judge Robert Ervin prohibited the 13-member commission from taking control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport until it receives an operating permit from the Federal Aviation Administration, or until it gets permission from the agency to use the city's operating certificate.

Until then, the city will keep running the airport just like it has for the last 70 years, he said.

During a hearing last week, the city asked Ervin to issue a permanent injunction blocking the new commission from taking control, but the state argued that the city's lawsuit should be dismissed.

The FAA has said it would stay out of the fight between Charlotte and North Carolina lawmakers until all legal issues are resolved in court.

One of the key issues is whether an FAA-issued operating certificate could be transferred from the city to the commission. The city said no, while attorneys for the commission said it could be.

The FAA is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation whose director is Anthony Foxx, the former mayor of Charlotte who had fought the state's takeover of the nation's sixth-busiest airport with nearly 44 million annual passengers.

Charlotte leaders on Monday praised the ruling.

"We hope that this ruling will lead to the end of this legal dispute so that we can continue to focus our efforts on the operations and prosperity of the airport," Mayor Dan Clodfelter said.

Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hageman agreed.

"We have consistently stated from the beginning of this conflict that the attempted transfer was both unnecessary and poorly designed," he said.

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's office, said no decision has been made yet whether to appeal the judge's ruling.

The ruling is the latest development in Charlotte's two-year battle to stop GOP lawmakers from taking over the airport's operation.

In early 2013, GOP lawmakers introduced legislation to strip the airport from the city because they said they wanted to keep it operating at a high level in the future. They said they were concerned the city was going to transfer airport revenue to the general fund - a move that would threaten the airport's low costs.

But city leaders said that was nonsense - and that the move was political on the part of GOP leaders who wrested control of the formerly longtime Democratic legislature in 2010 and then the governorship in 2012.

They said the bill was uncalled for because the city has done a good job running the airport.

The legislation created a 13-member commission. The city would still own the airport — but the commission would operate it. But the commission would make critical decisions about the airport's operations, including awarding contracts, hiring and firing and approving expansion plans.

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