Charlotte Aviation director Jerry Orr recently granted an interview to a small group of reporters, one from the local paper, two from radio and television news and yours truly.
And so it goes that I had the rare privilege of sitting down with Jerry Orr at his office the other day.
Orr's office is impressive, neat as a pin with views of the main concourse and beyond the ramp area between terminals A and C. The first thing I noticed was all the crayon drawings of stick and one dimensional airplanes. I mistakenly assumed they were the handy work of his grand son, I was wrong; the crayon art work is his.
A transcript of the interview follows:
Local Paper (LP): Mr. Orr thank you for taking the time to meet with us.
Orr: Where is Morgan? I want her to sit down in front just like she did for that football guy what’s his name.
Local Television News (LTN): Ahhh Mr. Orr... She wasn't invited.
Orr: Who are you and where’s Morgan? This is my airport I say who comes to these meetings!
Cedar Posts (CP): (Trying my best to diffuse the situation) She'll be here; she's just running a little late.
Orr: That's better (at this point Orr picks up a crayon and begins to hummm airplane noises rhythmically as he scribbles on a sheet of white paper.
LTN: How many passengers used the airport last year?
Orr: A bunch, a big ole bunch.
CP: Are you concerned that the redacted Tisdale Report creates more questions than it provides answers?
Orr: Tisdale, Tisdale, I've heard that name before. You know airplanes are dangerous things. I can't imagine why someone would climb into an airplane just before it takes off and later fall out of that same airplane splat! (Makes dramatic airplane sounds and smacks the conference table making splat sound.)
CP: Back in 2009 you told the advisory committee that there were 300 hundred cameras around the airport, is that true?
Orr: (Looking as notes) We have a whole bunch. (Holds his arms out to make a point)
Local Radio (LR): Do the gates have cameras?
Orr: Yes, each gate is monitored by a camera
LP: How many cameras are in the terminal?
Orr: A bunch, we monitor each gate inside and all the TSA screening stations.
CP: Since the airport has 91 gates with cameras both inside and out that leaves another 118 cameras to watch the parking decks ticket counters, TSA and baggage claim, are there any cameras watching the fences?
CP: How many?
Orr: A whole big bunch many!
LR: Could you give us an exact number?
Orr: You didn’t say pretty please.
LTN: Pretty Please.
Orr: Well, I am really not supposed to let you know this but they are more like virtual cameras.
LR: How does a virtual camera make the airport secure?
Orr: Here let me draw you a picture (Picks up crayon and draws a video camera) See here is one of our cameras. It's a virtual camera, but it still counts. So there you are now we have 301 cameras. You want me to draw another? We'll have 302!
LTN: Wow that’s amazing! He can just draw a camera and its there.
CP: (To LTN) You’re kidding me, right?
LR: What changes are you planning to make at the airport in light of the Tisdale Report?
Orr: Changes? We don't need changes, except to them damn taxicabs! I want them out of here. Do you know what most of those drivers do? They just sit out there at the cab stand, play domino's and pinochle all day, the place is nothing more than a damn club house. (Now drawing pictures of Taxicabs, picks up red crayon and draws flames coming from taxi.)
CP: Why limit the number of taxicab companies?
Orr: (Stops drawing and retracts tongue) we have 16 companies that serve the Airport. Haven't you noticed, none of our cabs look alike? We have everything from Geo Metros to Crown Victoria's. It means the arrivals area of the terminal is a rainbow of colors. I want all the colors the same. (At this point Orr shows reporters a fist full of crayons.) I want everything to match, the type of vehicles, quality of vehicles, colors of vehicles, they are all different colors like my pens.
LTN: Mr. Orr, Sir, those are crayons you are holding up.
Orr: Damn it! Where are my pens? Someone stole my pens!
CP: So what's the plan?
Orr: Ummmmm Hold on let me get my notes, I need my damn glasses.
LR: Mr. Orr your glasses are on top of your head.
At this point Orr gets serious, puts his glasses down to his nose, flips over his most recent crayon airplane drawing and prepares to read from a prepared script.
Orr: OK so what was your question?
CP: What is your plan regarding the taxicabs?
Orr: Hold on.... ok here we go. We want to raise the bar on the taxi service here at the Airport. We want the drivers to be uniformed and speak English and you can't wear a damn turban either!
LTN: How many passengers did the airport serve last year?
Orr: Sorry that is not on my list.
LTN: Could you guess?
Orr: Let's see a big old bunch divided by a bunch more and I'd say a lot.
CP: About the taxicabs?
Orr: Right, now back to the damn taxicabs, there are about 600 taxi drivers in the City of Charlotte. There are 144 that I have licensed to serve the Airport. We want to require newer model cars with GPS dispatch and navigation in the vehicle. We want GPS fare calculation. And uniforms!
CP: Can you legally require them to wear uniforms?
Orr: (Looking over his reading glasses and speaking in a low but ever increasing voice) Under the City Code, the Aviation Director, that's me, can set the rules and regulations for ground transportation services. So that means what I say F-ing goes! Where's Morgan?
CP: She's trying to find a place to park.
LR: So you can already make these requirements?
Orr: Yes. Under the City Ordinance, the Aviation Director can establish rules and regulations that govern taxi service at the Airport. If it is less than a one year contract it doesn’t require Council’s approval. Get it? So its all mine, mine mine mine.
LR: How much guidance does the Charlotte City Council or City Manager Provide you?
Orr: Look I don't mess with them and they don't mess with me, I'm out here doing my thing they have no idea what we are doing or a clue how much debt we are floating out here. We have more growth and development here at the airport than anywhere else in the city. Do you see wants going on?
LTN: You mean all the projects and expansion?
ORR: Hell no, out there (Points to a baggage cart that has turned over spilling a dozen suitcases and their contents on to the tarmac)
LTN: Oh my Goodness, that's terrible.
ORR: I've got to get a picture of this (Fumbles with his smart phone, finally gets it to flash taking an out of focus photo of himself.)
LR: So what is the term of the contracts with the taxicab companies?
Orr: 363 days.
LP: Seems rather short? Why 363?
Orr: Well we wanted 3 year contracts, but the damn city council has to approve any contract longer than a year. So problem fixed 363 day contracts.
LR: So what is wrong with having 16 taxicab companies? You know free market and all that?
Orr: We do not intend to have 16 separate contracts which is impossible to administer. My staff aren't rocket scientists, you know. Back in 1989, we had what was called an open agreement where we would enter into an operating agreement with any company that wanted to serve the Airport, but limit the number of permits. Then the City started regulating the taxicabs, stepping all over my turf, so they adopted a Passenger for Hire Ordinance in 2000. But in 1989, we had four companies with 60 permits here at the Airport.
Today we have 16 companies with 144 permits.
CP: That doesn't seem like a big increase considering the growth in Charlotte, so what is the issue?
LTN: How many passengers did the airport service last year?
CP: (To Local Television) You already asked that question.
LTN: I know I'm just checking my facts.
Orr: A bunch, no make that a really big bunch.
Orr: The Issue? The Issue is it’s out of control. What has happened is some company owners established additional companies to get more permits. Then company owner then sold those permits to an independent operators for more than we charge the owner. They are making a killing reselling our permits.
LR: Sounds like a loop hole in the current regulations, what else is going on?
Orr: Loop hole its a wide open circus, these companies go out and sell it twice and tell one driver he can pick-up on certain days and then sell the permit again and tell him he can only serve the airport on the other days. In our new rules and regulations, we will limit the amount of money the owner can charge an operator for the permit.
CP: Are there any back ground checks on the drivers or companies?
Orr: No answer (Orr stares at plane as it taxis on the ramp. Begins to pretend cell phone is an aircraft radio, making radio static noise and sound of jet engines.)
LTN: Is there anything on the taxi to tell you if they are authorized?
Orr: Yes, there is a sticker. (Mumbles something about not being able to find his stickers)
LR: How easy would it be to make fake copies of the stickers?
Orr: No Answer (Continues to look for stickers)
LR: Mr. Orr?
Orr: (Looking under the table) I’m looking for my stickers! (pokes his head above table)
LR: They are on the left. No, your left. The other way. No, over there. Look next to your coffee!
Orr: It’s not coffee its Metamucil.
LP: What if a taxi in Gastonia wants to deliver someone to the Airport, can they?
Orr: Why would they want to do that?
Orr: Yes, they can deliver. They can pick-up, but must pay a fee to do so. See I'm all about the fees. I'm going to be collecting fees out here for the next 50 years. Concession fees, landing fees, gate fees, I'm even going to start charging the TSA fees.
CP: What do the taxi drivers have to say about all of this?
Orr: They love it! It's a great idea. Well they do complain about one thing the black cars. You know Town Cars and Limos. The reason people use the black cars is they look nice, there are shiny and black and the drivers wear a nice uniforms.
We want that same service for the taxis and we want everyone in uniforms just like the TSA. But more like the CMPD command staff. With “pith helmets” in the summer and berets and black and striped shirts in the winter just like the chandeliers in Paris.
LTN: They are in Venice and they are Gondoliers, I'm pretty sure. But I need to check my facts.
LP: So what is your long term goal?
Orr: Our goal is high quality vehicles, high quality service and quality drivers. Vehicles will have to be no older than three years when they enter into service and they can stay in service no longer than three years. We don’t want any damn six year old cars at the airport.
Orr: By the time the convention gets here, we need to have an improved system. We will catch a lot of flack if we don’t make some improvements.
CP: What other changes are you making at CDIA?
Orr: Well for one thing we are getting rid of that damn statue.
LP: You mean the famed Queen Charlotte statue?
Orr: Hell yes that rusty old woman is going to the trash pile, never made any sense to me and people ask too many questions about it, and I hate questions.
CP: What will replace the statue?
Orr: Five new lanes of traffic. We have three now and I want eight.
LR: Isn't that an unnecessary increase?
Orr: Hell no...... we are going to build the terminal out adding another 90 feet to the front of the terminal. So I’ll have room for more cattle lines. The TSA is bringing in new equiptment to screen carry on baggage and it's 25% slower. And since the airlines started charging for checked bagagge we've had a 75% increase in carry on suitcases. So we are going to double the area to wait in line to get through security.
LR: The TSA is bringing equiptment that is 25% slower?
ORR: Yep, and that why we will soon take over screening and charge the TSA for that as well, more fees!
CP: What about the air/truck/train inter-module facility?
Orr: I love trains whoooo whoooo (Chugging and making steam engine sounds around his office) Don't you?
LTN: I love trains.
CP: How many trucks do you expect will use the facility each day?
Orr: 500 maybe more.
LTN: I love trucks too.
CP: Are you supporting a light rail system that would stop at the airport? And does Charlotte’s growth justify light rail?
Orr: Yes. But “justifies light rail” is an oxymoron because no light rail pays for itself, so it’s subsidized. I don’t know of any major city that has a light rail system where it doesn’t go to the international airport.
LP: The Charlotte City Council…
Orr: (Interrupting) I don’t even know who’s on the city council. But I can tell you we are going to have a light rail system because we’ve designed our roadway entrance system to accommodate that.
And we’ll do it one of two ways. It will come down the middle of Wilkinson or the railroad right away. We will even have a line that would go through Belmont and Gastonia. We would have a station where our Business Valet parking deck is located and transfer to a vehicle that would get you to the terminal. Hell the airport would have the terminal and it would follow the new road loop. The new road loop really facilitates that because it comes in at point and makes a big loop.
Orr: Where’s Morgan?
LTN: Mr. Orr why do you keep asking about Morgan?
Orr: Do you always talk with your hands? You know that's annoying as hell?
Orr: Well, thank you for coming I have to go now. (At this point two men in white coats wheel Jerry Orr clutching his crayons down the hall and around a corner).
I had an interesting day meeting Mr. Jerry Orr. Even more interesting he left behind one of his crayons “Wild Blue Yonder”.