Jul 6, 2023 - News

Battle over Nashville airport control rages on

Photo: courtesy of Nashville International Airport

The tug-of-war over control of Nashville International Airport ratcheted up in recent days as the city asked the court to immediately intervene in its power struggle with the state.

Catch up quick: Metro already challenged the legality of a new state law granting top Republican officials power to appoint the majority of board members to the Metro Nashville Airport Authority, which oversees the airport. Until now, the Nashville mayor appointed the board.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration sent a letter last month informing airport leadership it would only recognize the board's previous configuration until the litigation concludes.
  • Gov. Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton made their appointments prior to July 1, as the law required, despite the FAA's objection.
  • Mayor John Cooper has not made his two appointments to the board.

The latest: Just hours before the law took effect, Metro responded by filing a request for a temporary injunction to block it from happening until the court decides the broader lawsuit. The panel of judges hearing the case has not responded to Metro's request.

Why it matters: The control of Nashville's booming airport hangs in the balance.

  • Since the FAA says it only recognizes the previous board, but Republican officials and the airport leadership recognize the newly appointed board, Nashville is left with the bizarre situation of dueling boards.

Of note: Metro Councilmember Russ Bradford, who represents the area, backs the city suit and says that under advice from Metro legal, he will not advance legislation related to water infrastructure for the airport's ongoing expansion project while the lawsuit is pending.

  • State lawmakers who supported the law say the airport is a regional asset and increased state oversight makes more sense.
  • Bradford also penned a letter June 22 to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressing concerns over the new state law. "I respectfully ask that the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration do more within their authority and ability to prevent this takeover of our airport board," Bradford wrote.
  • Airport leadership sent Bradford an email June 27 saying that until a court intervened, the state law empowering the new board is in effect.

What he's saying: "We warned the state about these consequences," Metro legal director Wally Dietz tells Axios. "This chaotic situation harms Nashville, the state, and the airport and could have been avoided had calmer heads prevailed."

What's next: The new board will meet Thursday at a specially called meeting.


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