State Senate study committee explores challenges, benefits of Hartsfield-Jackson takeover idea

State senators discussed Wednesday how creating an airport authority to run Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport could bring a change in management amid a federal investigation into corruption at Atlanta City Hall.

The state Senate study committee convened its first meeting Wednesday to look at the idea of creating an airport authority to manage the world' s busiest airport, which is currently run by the City of Atlanta.

"Hartsfield-Jackson has been a huge economic boon.... However we're also very aware of the challenges that have seemingly hampered this facility for decades, and it all seems to center around a cloud of corruption and a pay-to-play system," said study committee chairman State Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson. He compared the idea of creating an airport authority to run Hartsfield-Jackson to the creation of the Georgia Ports Authority and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority.

Speaking to the committee Wednesday were Michael Bell, who was chief financial officer at the Atlanta airport decades ago and wrote a 1980 dissertation that found an airport authority would be beneficial, and Robert Highsmith, outside counsel for the City of Atlanta.

While some other major airports around the country are run by authorities, Highsmith said  “a large number of airports are in fact run by city and county elected officials and people appointed by them,” as Atlanta’s airport is, adding that it is “in strong capable hands.”

The committee is also weighing how an airport authority could explore adding a second commercial airport for the region.

Jones said the committee will seek to answer three questions: Does it benefit the state? Will the Federal Aviation Administration approve it? And, how much would it cost to restructure the airport’s bonds?

The idea of a state takeover of City of Atlanta-run Hartsfield-Jackson, the world's busiest airport, faces opposition from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Delta Air Lines.

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