RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- The North Carolina House approved plans Tuesday to immediately strip Charlotte of the airport it has run for more than 70 years and turn over control of the country's eighth-busiest airline hub to an appointed body.
The House voted 75-39 to hand management of US Airways' top hub to a regional authority. Changes made by House lawmakers, including the immediate transfer of the assets and management, still must be approved by the state Senate. The measure also must be accepted by Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor.
Charlotte officials are warning of a lawsuit to block the move. Ex-mayor Anthony Foxx fought the move before becoming U.S. transportation secretary this month.
US Airways is close to merging with American Airlines and deciding where to place major operations.
Advocates for the change say they want to protect the commerce that depends on the easy flight connections of a major airline hub. Banana giant Chiquita Brands International decided in 2011 to move its global headquarters from Cincinnati in part because of the greater access to foreign flights in and out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
"The airport is not like regular city departments. It really is a business. And smart business people don't wait until the system is broken before they fix it. They look ahead, prepare to avoid dangers and to capture opportunities," said Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, a former county commissioner. "A smart business person recognizes that when her biggest customer, in this case US Airways, is undergoing a major reorganization impacting every factor of their business including hub locations, she needs to be well-positioned to capture that opportunity."
Charlotte-area Democrats urged their Republican colleagues to reject the plan, the latest in a series of local disputes in which the Legislature's GOP majority has intervened this year. Opponents of a takeover by a regional operating authority noted US Airways already enjoys some of the lowest operating costs in the country at Charlotte's airport.
"We've started out with a conclusion and then tried to figure out how to jury-rig the structure to support that conclusion," said Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg. "I appeal to you — you were elected to use your brains."
Charlotte proposed transferring some airport control of to an independent 11-member governing body whose members would be appointed by the city and not state leaders, Mayor Patsy Kinsey said Tuesday. Airport employees would continue working for the city.
Kinsey criticized legislative Republicans for appearing intent on taking the airport away from Charlotte.
"The citizens of Charlotte built that airport; Raleigh didn't," Kinsey said in a video released by city officials.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio
Associated Press writer Mitch Weiss in Charlotte contributed to this report.
- US Airways