airport names

Should an airport be named for a city or a celebrity?

City or celebrity? Branding goals fuel airport name changes

Louisville, Kentucky is well known for bourbon, the Kentucky Derby and Louisville Slugger baseball bats.

It’s also the city the late, legendary boxer Muhammad Ali called home.

In his honor, Louisville International Airport (SDF) was recently renamed Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport and a new logo honoring The Champ and his famous praise, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” was adopted.

In addition to honoring a native son, the airport name change is expected bring economic benefits to Louisville and both built on and boost Ali-related tourism to the city.

“Even three years after our city’s most famous son’s passing, Louisville continues to see people coming from across the globe to discover and trace Ali’s legacy,” Karen Williams, President and CEO of Louisville Tourism said in a statement, “The airport rebranding supports current marketing efforts to engage in Ali’s ‘Footsteps of Greatness’ as a reason to inspire visitation to Louisville.”

Location, Location, Location

While Louisville added the name of a local icon to its airport’s name, other airports are moving away from celebrity names in favor of stronger geographic branding.

In 2016, the Allegheny County Airport Authority declined to change the name of Pittsburgh International Airport to the Fred Rogers International Airport.

 An online petition seeking to honor the late star of the locally produced “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” PBS TV program was signed by more than 15,000 supporters. But airport representatives said vacation planners were more likely to search online for “Pittsburgh Airport” than for “Fred Rogers.”

In southern California, regional Bob Hope Airport (BUR) is now Hollywood Burbank Airport.

The switch came in 2017 after airport officials realized that while the general public knew that the late Bob Hope was a comedian, few outside the region knew the airport was so located so close to Hollywood and many top Los Angeles-area attractions.

“Some thought the airport was in Palm Springs,” said airport spokeswoman Lucy Burghdorf, “Others thought it was in Vietnam,” because Hope had hosted annual USO Christmas tours to entertain troops during much of the Vietnam War.

To help solve BUR’s identity problem, “We studied what other airports had done and why,” said Michael Fiore, cofounder and chief brand officer of the Anyone Collective, “And for the most part we found the same answers: those with a geographic identifiers attached to them were performing better than others.”

The name-change, coupled with branding and marketing efforts that include everything from new signage at the airport and on highways to online advertising, has garnered the airport national awards and, more importantly, more passengers, said Fiore.

Some other airports have gently tweaked their names in the interest of better branding.

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL) was renamed St. Louis Lambert International Airport in February 2017. The move was made “to improve marketing positions locally and globally while also expanding connections with the St. Louis region,” according to the airport’s strategic plan.

And Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport (MKE) now uses the brand name Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport.

“This decision was made to better identify our geographical location to travelers who are not from this region,” said MKE spokesman Harold Mester, “Our new brand adds the name of our anchor city while still honoring our namesake, Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, who is considered to be the father of the U.S. Air Force.”

Next up may be Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport .

“As we continue to market the airport in international and west coast markets, we have found that these populations are challenged to locate us,” said Kevin A. Dillon, Executive Director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, “Accordingly, we are undergoing a review to be completed by the end of the year to determine if it is feasible to change the airport name, and, if so, how we can continue to preserve the memory of Eugene Bradley at the airport.”

Bucking the Trend 

While the benefits of geographic branding are convincing some airports to change or tweak names, at least one airport is bucking the trend.

In 2017, the Hawaii Department of Transportation (HDOT) changed the name of Honolulu International Airport (HNL) to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

The much-beloved Inouye served as Hawaii’s first representative in Congress in 1959 and went on to represent the Aloha State in both the House and Senate for a combined 53 years.

This is the fourth name change in the airport’s history, notes HDOT.

When it opened in 1927, HNL was named the John Rodgers Airport. After surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor, in 1947 the airport was renamed Honolulu Airport. “International” was added to the name in 1951.

It is too soon to tell if the name change will boost the local economy or increase tourism to Honolulu. But HDOT pegs the cost of new signage, parts, materials, labor and other tasks associated with this latest name change at one million dollars.

What do you think? Should an airport be named for a city or a celebrity?

Airports named for aviation pioneers

Former presidents George H. W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Abraham Lincoln and Bill Clinton all have airports named for them. So do former cabinet secretaries John Foster Dulles and Norman Y. Mineta and celebrities as varied as John Wayne, Bob Hope, Louis Armstrong, Will Rogers and Arnold Palmer.

DIA_JeppesenStatue

Denver International Airport’s main terminal is named for Elray Jeppesen. Courtesy DIA.

There’s also a long-held tradition of naming airports, airfields and terminals for people with links to aviation history. Here are a dozen to explore.

SAN_LINDBERGH MURAL GONE

In 1928, San Diego Municipal Airport was dedicated as Lindbergh Field in honor of Charles A. Lindbergh, who took off nearby on May 10, 1927 for St. Louis, New York and then Paris for would become the first, solo, non-stop transatlantic flight.

Today, passengers at San Diego International Airport can see a life-size replica of Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis airplane hanging above baggage claim in Terminal 2 and a 26-inch-tall bronze bust depicting the aviator in his leather flight jacket. (Unfortunately, a popular 30-foot tall mural of Lindbergh – above – with a model of his famous airplane that was applied to the east wall of the Commuter Terminal in 1997 was removed in June 2012 as part of a building maintenance project.)

SAN_LINDBERGH PLANE REPRODUCITON

Lucky Lindy is also remembered at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. MSP’s Charles A. Lindbergh Terminal opened in 1962 and was renamed Terminal 1- Lindbergh in 2010. A plaque and a bust honoring Lindbergh, who grew up on a farm in Little Falls, Minn., can be found near the information booth in the ticketing lobby.

Denver International Airport’s main terminal building is named in honor of Elrey Jeppesen, an early airmail pilot whose small black notebook filled with navigational notes about mountain elevations, radio towers, landmarks and possible obstructions gave way in the mid-1930s to a company that printed and sold manuals and charts giving pilots a better way to figure out where they were.

DIA_Jeppesen_display cases 017

 

Jeppesen, whose Denver-area navigational aid company is now computerized and owned by Boeing, got his first pilot’s license in 1928 (it was signed by Orville Wright) and was the first passenger to deplane from the first flight that arrived at the Jeppesen Terminal in 1995. An exhibit about Jeppesen, who died in 1996, is on Level 6 North of the Jeppesen Terminal and includes a copy of his first pilot’s license as well as his original airmail pilot jumpsuit, leather helmet, and goggles; a larger-than-life-size bronze sculpture of Jeppesen is on Level 5 of the terminal.

Milwaukee_ Mitchell Airport

In Wisconsin, Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport (MKE) honors Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell, an accomplished, outspoken and controversial pioneer in American military aviation. Mitchell’s medals, his portrait, photos and a model of his DH-4 Osprey aircraft are on display in the Mitchell Gallery of Flight, the airport’s free, on-site museum.

OPR_O'Hare Fighter Plane_Credit_Chicago Dept. of Aviation

Chicago’s Orchard Field (the source of the ORD airport code) was renamed Chicago-O’Hare International Airport in 1949 to honor naval aviator Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare, a Medal of Honor recipient from Chicago who died in World War II. An exhibit in the main hall of Terminal 2 includes a replica of O’Hare’s Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat plane and memorabilia from the era.

Dayton General Airport South, a general aviation facility in Ohio, was renamed Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport (MGY) in 1995 to honor Wilbur and Orville Wright, who worked on aviation projects in town. The brothers’ accomplishments are celebrated at an on-site hangar museum that both displays and flies Wright Model B lookalike planes, along with other historically accurate aircraft.

Yeager Airport_portrait of Chuck Yeager

In Charleston, West Virginia, the Kanawha Airport was renamed Yeager Airport (CRW) in 1985 to honor flying ace and retired Brigadier General Charles “Chuck” Yeager who, in 1947 became the first pilot to travel faster than the speed of sound. Travelers will see a bronze statue of General Yeager in the terminal, his portrait in the public area, and a metal art piece titled “Sound and Beyond” on the roadway near the terminal.

The cargo-dedicated Rickenbacker International Airport (LCK) in Columbus, Ohio honors Columbus-born Eddie Rickenbacker, who was a commercial-aviation executive, race-car driver, World War I flying ace and one-time owner and operator of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Seattle_Courtesy the Boeing Company

Courtesy the Boeing Company

 

In Seattle, the King County International Airport, also known as Boeing Field, is named for Boeing Company founder William E. Boeing, while Atchison, Kansas-born aviatrix Amelia Earhart is honored at that city’s Amelia Earhart Memorial Airport. And celebrated pilot and high altitude flight equipment innovator Wiley Post – the first pilot to fly solo around the world – has an airport named for him just outside of Oklahoma City.

Not all airports tagged with names from aviation history get to keep those titles.

In Louisiana, what is now Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) was originally named Moisant Field in 1946 (and, later, Moisant International Airport) in honor of John B. Moisant.

Moisant didn’t live in New Orleans, but died in an airplane crash there on the last day of December 1910 while competing in a contest that promised $4,000 in prize money to the pilot whose plane stayed in the air the longest.

Before his demise, Moisant gained fame in 1909 for building and flying the first metal airplane and, in 1910, for taking the first airplane passenger across the English Channel. Along for the ride that day was Moisant’s regular flying companion – his cat.

New Orleans_MoisantAirport 01

(My story about airports named for aviation pioneers first appeared in my ‘At the Airport’ column on USA TODAY in a slightly different format under the title: What’s in an airport name? Sometimes it’s aviation history.”