Salt Lake International Airport is embroiled in a disagreement with TAC Air, the company with the exclusive right to provide its fueling and ground services. The airport insists that TAC Air’s monopoly threatens the airport’s access to as much as $300 million in federal funding for its $1.8 billion expansion. TAC counters that there are other examples of single providers for such services that have received no sanction from Washington, D.C. The regulations in question are open to interpretation, and no easy answers are on the horizon. Both sides are therefore digging in their heels, and a long and difficult negotiation seems inevitable.
So why does the Utah Legislature want to jump into the middle of it?
"I just encourage and admonish everyone to sit down and get things done right," Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, said at the hearings. "Let’s get together and talk.” That’s a great idea in principle, but the issue at hand is who ought to be doing the talking.
Maureen Riley, the airport’s executive director, pointed out in the hearings that most vendors with grievances usually take their case to the Federal Aviation Administration. Utah legislators have no input into how the FAA operates, so any conversations they have on the topics will have no bearing on what the FAA chooses to do or not do.
The FAA handles these kinds of problems on a regular basis and is better equipped to deal with them. The disagreements are focused on federal guidelines that the state of Utah has no ability to alter, and the national standards in question won’t be affected by whatever Utah decides to do. The lack of jurisdiction means that the Legislature’s role in this process is undefined at best and obtrusive at worst.
That hasn’t stopped lawmakers from jumping into this mess with both feet by means of hearings on Capitol Hill. Several legislators have taken an active interest in the dispute. "There looks like there is some room where we can resolve some of these things," said Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Taylorsville, who is the co-chairman of the Transportation Interim Committee.
While we admire his and others’ willingness to help, the fact remains that these are not Se. Van Tassell’s — nor the Legislature’s — to resolve. Nobody wants to see a protracted dispute between the airport and TAC Air, but the situation is more likely to be diffused if to works its way through the proper channels. Well-intentioned lawmakers who want to insert themselves into the process risk muddying the waters instead of reaching a workable solution.