City of Atlanta, Delta added lease provision to block airport takeover

Senate study committee meeting

Senate study committee meeting

Atlanta officials say a provision in bond and airline lease documents restricts any change of control of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport — and that the city has no plans to relinquish control.

A state Senate study committee is examining the idea of creating an authority to take control of Hartsfield-Jackson International. But attorneys representing the city told the committee that the deals with Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines would limit a change of control of the airport — and the agreements last until 2036.

State Sen. Burt Jones, chairman of the study committee, said that's why he has had discussions with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore, saying he wants to collaborate.

“As a compromise, if you had two parties come together…. that would trigger an ease of moving operations from one entity to another,” Jones said. “We feel like, for some time now, there’s been activities in and around the airport that have been more politically influenced than what you’d like to see.”

Jones believes an authority could keep the airport an arm's length away from the political influence of elected officials — and that a state authority would allow exploration of the idea of a second hub airport in Georgia.

“The only way you’re going to have a serious conversation about a second location or a reliever location is by having an entity that has the interests of the entire state at hand,” Jones said.

Attorneys for the city and a bond attorney said even if an authority can take control of the airport, it would cost considerably more to get bond financing — in part because many of the bonds can’t be repaid early.

Some raised concerns that the city and Delta Air Lines struck the lease deal, including the provision for no change in control, after the state began discussing the idea of taking over the Atlanta airport.

“I find it interesting,” said state Sen. Tyler Harper, that it happened “in the same year or about the same time those discussions are happening under the Gold Dome.” He said he wants the committee “to dig in more deeply” into the issue.

Greg Richardson, chief financial officer at Hartsfield-Jackson, said “it was probably top of mind for lots of folks during these conversations.”