Apr 3, 2023 - Politics

FAA, Metro legal concerned about state taking over airport authority

An aerial view of Nashville International Airport.

An aerial view of Nashville International Airport. Photo: courtesy of the Nashville airport

The Federal Aviation Administration has sounded the alarm about a state bill to take over the Metro Airport Authority.

What's happening: The FAA says it would need to sign off on the plan since it constitutes a change in governance.

  • The Metro Airport Authority oversees Nashville International Airport and John C. Tune Airport. Its board members are nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the Metro Council.
  • The legislation would allow the governor and legislative speakers to make those board appointments instead.

What he's saying: The FAA has questions, "including the impact of such a transfer on the airports' Federal obligations, operations and existing financial arrangements," FAA director of the office of airport compliance and management analysis Kevin Willis wrote in a letter to airport CEO Doug Kreulen last week.

  • In all cases, final decisions regarding the proposed change will be made by the FAA's airport compliance office, Willis wrote.

State lawmakers supporting the proposal have said several times during legislative debates prior to the letter that the FAA has not raised an issue with the bill.

  • Sen. Paul Bailey, a Republican, argued during debates that airport authorities are created by the state and therefore how the boards are appointed should be under the state's purview.
  • State Rep. Johnny Garrett, a Republican, told a House committee that legal guidance from an outside law firm concluded the proposal doesn't affect FAA regulations "because we are not changing any type of control."

The other side: Metro Director of Law Wally Dietz tells Axios, "The FAA letter… is a giant yellow caution flag to all of us. I certainly hope the legislature will slow down and work through the very serious issues raised by the FAA letter before we have a serious problem on our hands."

  • A city lawsuit challenging an airport takeover would be likely if the legislation passes. A federal review would not take place until after litigation played out.
  • In addition to the airport authority, state lawmakers proposed taking over the Metro Sports Authority, but backed off that plan in favor of appointing less than half of its board members.

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