By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
CHATTANOOGA — A federal administrator wants to dismiss a formal complaint against the Chattanooga Airport Authority from TAC Air, which says the authority used taxpayer money to compete against it.
The specific reasons the Federal Aviation Administrator wants to dismiss the complaint are unclear, but FAA administrators do not believe the airport authority violated federal law, according to Wednesday’s Chattanooga Times Free Press, which said the decision is not final.
Tennessee Watchdog was unable to obtain a copy of the FAA report in which this administrator said the TAC Air complaint should be dismissed. TAC Air officials responded to the report on its website, saying it strongly disagrees with the FAA’s conclusion.
Many officials in the FAA’s press offices were unavailable to comment, nor could anyone report due to the federal government shutdown. One FAA employee who was available referred to the authority all questions on the matter.
Tennessee Watchdog left three messages Thursday with authority spokesman Albert Waterhouse, but he did not respond.
TAC Air spokesman Dave Edwards said the ruling changes nothing.
“The FAA basically has told the airport ,‘Yeah, you’ve got the right to keep on spending taxpayer money on creating a surplus of general aviation services.’”
As previously reported, authority officials used $4 million in Tennessee Department of Transportation grants to establish a new Fixed Base of Operations to compete against TAC Air, formerly the airport’s only FBO. They chose Wilson Air, and that company manages the FBO under the airport’s authority.
Authority officials confirmed to Tennessee Watchdog last year they have lost at least $300,000 on the venture. TAC Air’s examination of public records now shows the authority has lost $1.2 million since the new FBO opened in 2011, Edwards said.
Twelve members of Congress, including Tennessee representatives Diane Black and Marsha Blackburn, both Republicans, signed a letter asking the FAA to intervene last year, saying the agency has a responsibility to make sure all FBOs can compete on a level playing field.
James Coyne, president of the National Air Transportation Association, sent a letter to Tenn. Gov. Bill Haslam, also last year, asking that he and members of his administration scrutinize the matter. Coyne said such activity would discourage private investors away from the airport and create additional burdens for taxpayers.
Meanwhile, State Sen. Frank Nicely, R-Strawberry Plains, proposed legislation earlier this year that would have prohibited transportation equity funds from being used to compete with privately owned aviation companies providing aeronautical services.
Nicely withdrew the legislation until 2014.
Contact Christopher Butler at email@example.com.
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