NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Whereas Nashville Worldwide Airport hums to the tune of dwell music in a terminal crammed with vacationers and locals alike, this fashionable gateway to Tennessee has quietly confronted an identification disaster.

Underneath a brand new state regulation, there isn’t a clear settlement now about who’s answerable for airport operations. The confusion comes at a time when the airport is booming, its annual passengers having greater than doubled over the previous decade to 21.8 million by the 2023 fiscal yr.

The nonprofit Metro Nashville Airport Authority and state officers argue {that a} new group of state appointees has lawfully taken over the authority’s board. However federal officers and town contend the outdated board picked by Nashville’s mayor nonetheless has energy.

Each boards met on the identical time final week throughout city from one another.

The dispute heads to a listening to Friday in a state court docket in Nashville.

Earlier this yr, Republican lawmakers accepted plans for the state to make sufficient appointments to manage the airport’s board beginning in July. The change was amongst a number of handed by legislators searching for to curtail the ability of the closely Democratic metropolis, whose metro council sunk a bid to convey the 2024 Republican Nationwide Conference to Nashville.

The town has filed go well with in opposition to the state over the modifications to the airport authority, which manages, operates, funds and maintains the worldwide airport and a smaller one in Nashville. Within the meantime, the authority put in the brand new board members on July 1, saying it may’t defy state regulation with out a court docket order.

Citing the Tennessee Structure, town’s lawsuit argues the state violated dwelling rule protections by singling out Nashville with out requiring both an area referendum or a two-thirds vote of the metro council for the change.

The state responded that Nashville cannot make its claims as a result of the airport authority is impartial of the native authorities.

Metropolis leaders, nevertheless, reached out and acquired enter from the Federal Aviation Administration, which might veto sure modifications to the airport’s governance. The federal company mentioned it will hold recognizing the pre-July 1 board till a court docket decides the lawsuit.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper, a Democrat, has cried foul on the Republican change.

“Nashville’s airport has grown very successfully over the years by the direction of this board, and that’s unquestionable,” Cooper mentioned throughout a latest assembly of the board he chosen. “Any state action is purely about politics.”

Tennessee’s state of affairs is not unprecedented. On account of FAA and court docket motion, North Carolina’s 2013 regulation to shift management of Charlotte Douglas Worldwide Airport from town to a separate regional board by no means got here to fruition. Mississippi’s 2016 regulation to reconfigure Jackson’s airport stays blocked by an ongoing authorized problem. Georgia lawmakers flirted with flipping the Atlanta airport’s governance in 2019 however opposition sank the proposal.

Nashville officers say the state is upending an airport board with out complaints about its efficiency, even throughout a time of in depth enlargement.

Within the 2023 funds yr, the airport unveiled a brand new foyer, added extra eating places and dwell music, opened a further parking storage and made progress towards an onsite resort. The airport hosts nation, jazz and bluegrass concert events in its terminals and reveals the work of native artists.

The ability has endured rising pains, too, marked by passenger pickup traces typically stretching properly previous a close-by interstate exit.

Lawmakers handed the change regardless of predictions in April by former FAA official Kirk Shaffer that it will create competing boards in “a messy and costly stalemate that damages all involved,” probably jeopardizing federal grant cash.

Up to now, the combat is essentially unfolding in court docket filings. The town says misplaced grant cash may halt tasks to accommodate extra flights, spurring cancellations and delays. The state and the airport authority argue the grants aren’t in jeopardy. The authority mentioned Nashville officers are making “sky-is-falling” exaggerations.

Republican lawmakers contend the state deserves extra say over the rising airport due to its regional impression. Home Speaker Cameron Sexton mentioned lawmakers created “the legally sanctioned board.”

As an intervenor within the lawsuit, the airport authority has remained impartial on whether or not the brand new regulation is unconstitutional. Updates to the FAA have by no means resulted within the federal company directing the authority to cease following the state regulation, whereas even worse disruptions would end result from an order to briefly return to the preexisting board, the authority wrote.

The state-majority board met on the airport on Wednesday, conducting standard-fare enterprise on contracts and studies. On the identical time, the members of the mayoral-picked board gathered in metropolis corridor, reiterating that the FAA nonetheless acknowledges them whereas criticizing the state regulation and approving an outdoor legal professional rent.

In a letter to the Nashville neighborhood at giant, the authority’s CEO has acknowledged the “frustration and confusion” brought on by the dispute. However he mentioned the authority is chargeable for staying legally compliant.

“As an airport authority, we do not take political positions,” airport authority President and CEO Doug Kruelen wrote within the July 6 letter.

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