Thursday, March 21, 2013

By not taking a side, US Airways takes a side

US Airways CEO Doug Parker told the Observer today that his airline is not taking sides in the dispute over who should run Charlotte Douglas International Airport. But by not taking a side on legislation that's headed toward passage, the biggest heavyweight in the debate is taking a side.

Parker said the airline, which controls about 90 percent of the gates at CLT, doesn't care if the airport continues to be run by the city or is instead governed by a newly created independent authority. All Parker cares about, he says, is that the airport continues to be run efficiently, and that the airport director have the autonomy to make that happen.

But that, of course, ducks the question. Everyone on all sides wants the airport to continue to keep costs low. The question is whether the city can best do that, evidenced by an 80-year track record of strong management, or whether an authority should because airport director Jerry Orr is expected to retire soon and the city might deny his successor the latitude Orr has enjoyed.

US Airways, by being silent on that question, is allowing the push for an authority to proceed without a major roadblock. Sen. Bob Rucho's bill passed the N.C. Senate this month and the House is expected to begin debating it soon. US Airways, because of its importance to Charlotte and North Carolina, could stop the bill dead in its tracks by opposing it. By taking a pass, the airline is giving the legislature its unofficial blessing to move ahead.

Parker told us that he has "absolutely" been happy with the airport's efficiency under Charlotte's control. And he said he's not aware of the city making any significant changes that the airline opposes.

But he said that Orr expressed concerns that the city was taking away some of his autonomy. And since US Airways likes Orr and his autonomy, "that gets our antenna up."

"We like the existing model, so anyone suggesting that the existing model is somehow changing is concerning to us," Parker said.

You can't blame Parker for that. The low costs at Charlotte Douglas are a major help to US Airways' bottom line. Anything that threatens that could have a material effect on the company.

Parker says the airline is not taking sides. He points out that Orr has thrived under the city's governance for most of his 20-plus-year tenure and that "has worked fantastic over time." He says having an authority run the airport "hopefully would work just as well."

But it's not that easy for US Airways to sit on the fence. The airline is ultimately the most powerful potential opponent to the authority who could keep it from happening. And it's choosing to let the bill proceed with takeoff.

-- Taylor Batten


Anonymous said...

A very astute observation, Taylor.

Voluptuous Diva said...

Orr is the most powerful man in Charlotte. He gets everything he wants! Need lower taxes, ask Orr; need healthcare, ask Orr; Need education reform, ask Orr....too much power for one man!! Just thinking of all those poor cab drivers that were displaced because of J Orr!!!