Jun 29, 2023 - News

State, FAA at odds over airport board status

Illustration of the Tennessee State Capitol building with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

State Republican leaders are disregarding a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration and have made their appointments to a newly restructured Airport Authority board of directors.

Why it matters: This puts the state leaders at odds with the FAA. The agency told the Airport Authority and Metro this week that it would default to recognizing the former board while the issue is litigated to avoid confusion.

  • But the state's move to push forward with a new board makes it unclear what will happen next, and which version of the board will be in charge.

Catch up quick: The law at the center of the dispute gives state leaders the power to appoint most of the board members. (The Nashville mayor made all of the appointments up until now.)

  • Metro filed a lawsuit claiming that the law is illegal since it singles out Nashville rather than applying statewide.

The latest: A lawyer for the Airport Authority told the FAA in a letter this week that the authority must abide by the state law and seat the new board members.

  • Lawyer George Cate said the authority is not aware of legal authority empowering the FAA to recognize the former board.

Zoom out: Control of the airport board is one of several disputes between Metro and the state, which passed a slate of laws this past session aimed at Nashville.

  • The dueling interpretations of the law creates a sort of bureaucratic anarchy.
  • Gov. Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton announced their appointments to the new board in recent days. Mayor John Cooper is entitled to make two appointments as well, but his spokesperson says he will not be making them in the wake of the FAA letter.

What he's saying: "The FAA is free to 'recognize' whomever they wish but if they actually want to conduct business with the authority there will be only one legal way to do so," McNally spokesperson Adam Kleinheider tells Axios. "On July 1, there will be one board in existence and Lt. Gov. McNally has made his appointments to it."

The other side: Metro legal director Wally Dietz tells Axios in an emailed statement, "It should not be a surprise the FAA is adhering to its 2016 policy regarding a disputed change in control of an airport that accepts federal grants."

What we're watching: With the lawsuit ongoing in Chancery Court, it's unclear if the court will rule before July 1 on which board has control.


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