Travelers navigate multiple security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport the day after the 2019 Super Bowl. Officials expected over 100,00 travelers to pass through the airport that day. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Photo: Phil Skinner
Photo: Phil Skinner

Opinion: Ga. should take own advice on airport

The march by the state Legislature to gain more control over the world’s-busiest airport runs counter to lawmakers’ local-control, pro-business messaging. And the effort should cease.

It’s a head-shaker, really. The limited-government, local-control conservative bloc at the Gold Dome is tying itself into legislative knots in trying to gain at least some control of Atlanta’s bustling, city-run airport.

In the final days of the General Assembly’s session, lawmakers are pushing bills back and forth that, alternately, call for Georgia to either have “oversight” or outright control of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

In our view, neither measure should get off the ground. And not just because the more-draconian, state-pushed takeover of the airport would stand up a new state bureaucracy to run it, a scenario that flies directly against the shrink-government-always mindset dominant at the state capitol.

Sliced to the chase, there’s no substantial, legitimate reason to wrest away City of Atlanta control of Hartsfield-Jackson . Any such move is unlikely to solve existing problems, but very likely to create new ones.

To mulishly persist in such a scheme is a politically driven idea without practical merit. We urge pragmatic state leaders, especially among House leadership, to deep-six any bills that would move the state into the business of trying to run – or oversee – Hartsfield.

The state’s push into uncharted territory is being sold as a solution for corruption in city of Atlanta government. If the city’s rotten, surely the airport must also be adversely affected, goes this thinking.

Yes, many are appalled by the criminal charges resulting from the ongoing investigation into pay-for-play bribery schemes centered around Atlanta City Hall. Such behavior is simply wrong and should be sternly addressed by the legal system. Government – especially around the world’s busiest airport – should be held to high standards. On that, state lawmakers have a point.

That said, we believe that law enforcement and the offices of U.S. Attorney BJay Pak are up to the task of ferreting out and prosecuting municipal wrongdoing here.

We don’t have the same confidence that greater state involvement can effectively prevent any future improper, or illegal shenanigans in Hartsfield’s operations.

To think otherwise is to believe that state government’s apparatus is without flaw in terms of ethics, and/or intolerance of malfeasance or misfeasance. Reporting by this newspaper alone has shown time and again that is not the case.

There’s no reason to believe that relationships between airport vendors and politicians will be any less cozy under state oversight. The irresistibility of campaign contributions sought or willingly given, and the favors – read lucrative contracts – granted or denied as a result will not fade away as an ecosystem if airport control is snatched by the state.

Rather, what’s likely to happen is only that the center of gravity of this world of quid pro quo will simply shift from City Hall to the Gold Dome. And that would not be an improvement for Georgia, or the millions who use our airport.

And, aside from the mechanics of political machines, many metro Atlantans – and much of the world really – see Hartsfield as a very well-run airport. Travelers who’ve suffered their way through airports elsewhere can attest that our global aviation powerhouse generally excels at efficiently processing large numbers of travelers every day. That’s especially true when mega-events such as the Super Bowl bring bumper crops of flyers to Hartsfield.

If it’s working, don’t throw grit in smoothly oiled gears purely for politics’ sake.

Even the state’s takeover plan rightly acknowledges Hartsfield’s importance as a keystone of the pro-business climate that Gold Dome types like to trumpet.

Buttressing this belief is the low-key, but very real, opposition of Georgia’s largest private employer – and Hartsfield’s chief tenant – Delta Air Lines. If state lawmakers are serious about their business-boosting message, they should listen to the airline and drop this matter.

Then there’s the policy fact that a hostile takeover would be viewed unfavorably by the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees U.S. airspace. Despite lawmakers’ favorite invocation of the need for Georgia-centric solutions for almost anything, there’s no getting around the fact that Hartsfield-Jackson serves a national and global aviation system that’s overseen domestically by the feds.

None of which is to say that any instances of corruption in the airport’s governance should not be forcefully addressed. The ongoing investigations should press for justice to be served without partisan favor.

And it is not inappropriate to consider whether the current system of overseeing Hartsfield would benefit from revisions, if not an overhaul.

But those changes should come from the city – and not the state.

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Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.