CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jerry Orr, the controversial airport chief whose job is now in limbo, says he will retire no later than June 2015.
For now, though, it remains unclear whether Orr will be able to return and run the airport again before that.
Orr’s retirement date is the first time he’s publicly named a time to step down. The 72-year-old has run Charlotte Douglas International Airport since 1989 and worked there since 1975.
Orr was removed from his job as aviation director in July after the N.C. legislature passed a bill creating a new, independent body to oversee the airport and remove day-to-day operations from the city’s control. Orr says he was fired; city leaders say he resigned.
He continues to receive his $211,000 salary because the airport commission law names Orr director of the new Charlotte Airport Commission. Now Orr is spending his time working with former Charlotte mayor and attorney Richard Vinroot to get the commission up and running, and to get his job back.
The commission will have its first meeting Nov. 7, but it’s unclear what the members will have to do. A Superior Court judge issued a temporary injunction at the city’s request, blocking the commission’s implementation. That judge still must rule on whether the commission should run the airport.
For now, the airport continues to operate as a department of the city, with Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle reporting to City Manager Ron Carlee. If the judge OKs the airport commission law, Orr would return to oversee Charlotte Douglas, and the commission would take over most of the management.
In a Saturday letter to the commission’s 13 members, Orr indicated the first meeting will be largely informational.
“We’ll have a lot to talk about,” Orr wrote. “I’m planning to provide you with as much ‘orientation’ as possible that night concerning the complexities you’ll face in your governance of this $165 million business going forward.”
In a special letter to the Observer published Sunday, Orr acknowledged that the city’s lawsuit limits the commission’s authority. But he also called for city leaders and others to move beyond the “petty politics” that he says have characterized much of the airport fight so far.
“People are tired of political stalemate, and continued bickering creates the misimpression of instability at our airport,” Orr wrote. “That’s risky, particularly at a time when our biggest tenant, US Airways, is negotiating a merger and deciding which airports to invest in ... .”
Orr told the commission members in his letter that he wants to serve during a “transitional period” that would run through June 2015. That would give Orr time to oversee the rest of several major airport projects, including the intermodal rail cargo transfer yard and the airport’s new hourly parking decks and entrance road.
The commission then would have time to search for a permanent director, Orr said. And it would allow him to oversee negotiations with the airport’s biggest tenant, US Airways. The airline, which operates almost 90 percent of daily flights at Charlotte Douglas, has a master lease scheduled to expire in 2016.
Last week, Orr told the Observer that he didn’t think the city’s recent actions, such as a series of new audits, would hurt lease negotiations as long as he is back in charge.