Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Expert believes Nashville airport board bill could cause FAA issues

By Jon Styf | The Center Square, Mar 13, 2023 - An aviation expert testified Monday in front of a Tennessee House committee a bill to change who controls appointments to the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority could cause issues for the entity in its future grants from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Kirk Schaffer, former associate administrator for airports for the FAA, gave several examples of cities and states that were in conflict over control over their airport authorities that led to issues with FAA grants, including Charlotte, North Carolina, Atlanta and Jackson, Mississippi.

“I can promise you this,” Shaffer said. “It will cause conflict.”

Shaffer said FAA grant funding is dependent on the airport authority showing it can fulfill funding obligations on projects and ensure it can resolve funding issues. Shaffer it isn’t obvious to him how the airport authority would be able to prove that if the bill passes.

House Bill 1176 would allow the governor, speaker of the house and lieutenant governor three nominations each to the 10-person board with one going to Nashville mayor.

Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, said he feels this bill is different than the cities Shaffer mentioned because those cities were contesting a state creating a new authority over the airport while Tennessee is just looking to shift the power of nominations.

Shaffer’s resume showed he was a two-time presidential nominee to the FAA and has a “35 year record of success providing strategic vision and counsel as an entrepreneurial aerospace executive, advocate, and regulator.” He was general counsel for the Metro Nashville Airport Authority for 18 years.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, asked Shaffer if Shaffer felt the bill could impact Tennessee’s economy by causing funding issues at the airport, to which Shaffer responded “yes.”

“If this conflict develops, then the airport authority will be in legal limbo,” Shaffer said.

Garrett claimed the state provides more funding for the airport, which has its own police and fire departments. But Clemmons said Nashville police went to 2,400 calls at the airport in recent years.

Rep. Caleb Hemmer, D-Nashville, added Nashville’s airport operates mainly from its $18 million in net operating income, with the state providing 9% of its capital outlay and the FAA providing 4%.

“It’s very, very successful,” Hemmer said of the airport.

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