FAA: Paulding airport won't go commercial until lawsuits are resolved

The question of a second metro Atlanta commercial airport remains on hold in Paulding County.

Amid lawsuits challenging efforts to commercialize Paulding's airport, the Federal Aviation Administration wrote a letter this week saying it will wait until the legal questions are resolved by the courts before making a decision on the airport's commercial certification.

In the two-and-a-half years since the Paulding airport 35 miles northwest of Atlanta announced its plans to launch airline service, there have been about nine lawsuits filed on various issues related to the Paulding airport's efforts to attract airline service.

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The FAA in its letter specifically noted two more recent lawsuits that question the legal basis of the airport's application for commercial certification -- one filed by Paulding County against the county's own airport authority, and another filed in federal court by the Paulding airport's commercial partner Silver Comet Terminal Partners seeking declaratory judgment on the matter.

"Consistent with FAA practice, given such litigation the FAA will not make any decision related to commercial service" at the Paulding airport "until the above and any further litigation on this subject is fully and definitively resolved by a final, non-reviewable judgment," according to the May 4 letter from FAA chief counsel Reginald Govan to attorneys representing various parties in the Paulding airport lawsuits.

The lawsuits question whether the airport authority was authorized to apply to commercialize the airport, or whether the county as the owner of the airport holds the right to make such a decision.

That's a key question because the balance of power on the county commission has shifted from airport commercialization proponents to opponents in the last two years. Four of the five commission members now oppose airport commercialization, with more shifts possible in an upcoming election.

Paulding airport officials had hoped to soon complete an environmental assessment to clear the way for commercial certification. But the lawsuits could take months or even years to resolve.

"You could be looking at a year and a half or even two years before you would have a final, non-appealable decision," said Chuck Conerly, a Carrollton attorney representing the county in the lawsuits.

The FAA plans to continue work to complete the environmental assessment, even as the commercial certification question remains the subject of lawsuits. But the environmental assessment could also end up wrapped up in legal challenges once it is completed.

The Paulding effort to attract airline service was hatched apart from any plans by the city of Atlanta. Officials from the city of Atlanta and Delta Air lines have vehemently opposed the Paulding airport's plans to commercialize.

Meanwhile, the city of Atlanta has also shut the door to opening its own second commercial airport, after a lease signed with Atlanta-based Delta last week in which the city pledges that it "will not own or operate any other commercial service airport" other than Hartsfield-Jackson.


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About the Author

Kelly Yamanouchi
Kelly Yamanouchi
Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.