- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - A new federal policy means Jackson’s two airports are likely to stay under the control of the current five-member board appointed by Mayor Tony Yarber.

The Federal Aviation Administration published a policy June 6 that says it won’t approve transferring control of a federal-funded airport unless the body running the airport gives its consent.

The policy says anyone considering a change in governance should “consult with and obtain the consent of the current sponsor/operator (absent extraordinary circumstances, such as substantial evidence of mismanagement on the part of the current sponsor/operator.”

FAA spokeswoman Marcia Adams said no one was available to comment on the new policy Tuesday afternoon.

The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority strongly opposes handing over the Jackson Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport and Hawkins Field to a new nine-member board created earlier this year by lawmakers under Senate Bill 2162 .

That law was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant , with an effective date of July 1, after a bitter legislative fight where supporters of city control accused white suburban Republicans of unlawfully trying to steal an asset controlled by Democratic officials in the majority-black city.

The law gives Yarber and the Jackson City Council one appointment each. Bryant picks two members, and suburban Rankin and Madison counties name one each. Also getting one appointment each is the lieutenant governor, the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority and the adjutant general of the Mississippi National Guard.

A majority of board members would be required to live in the city of Jackson.

At a Tuesday news conference, board chairman Rosie Pridgen expressed confidence that the current board would continue to control the airport.

“We commend the FAA for making its position crystal clear,” she said.

She also noted that supporters had gathered more than 10,000 signatures on a petition to the FAA for the Yarber-appointed board to retain control.

Pridgen said that even with the rule change, the board intends to sue to block the takeover. A second part of the policy says the FAA won’t approve the handover of any airport where a change in control is legally disputed, “until the dispute is definitively resolved to the satisfaction of the FAA.”

Jeffery Stallworth of Jackson sued in federal court April 6 to block the new board, but the state has yet to respond.

Sen. Josh Harkins, R-Flowood, who sponsored the bill, reiterated Tuesday that he was trying to improve the board by requiring some members to have financial or aviation experience, and noted that Jackson would get to keep all the tax revenue it currently gets from the airport. Airport property is mostly within the city limits, even though it’s in neighboring Rankin County. Harkins, a commercial real estate broker, also again denied claims that he was trying to pass control of the airport’s undeveloped land to friends.

Harkins said he wants the new board to be set up and seek FAA approval to take over.

“I’m going to encourage everybody to continue on and make their appointments and make application and see what happens,” Harkins said.

A similar 2013 move to give control of the Charlotte, North Carolina, airport to a state commission there has been tied up by litigation that says the FAA must decide who runs that airport. The city continues to run it.

The FAA is a unit of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Current U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is the former mayor of Charlotte.

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Online: FAA airport control policy: https://1.usa.gov/1PsCzH4

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Follow Jeff Amy at: https://twitter.com/jeffamy. Read his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/jeff-amy


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