By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The city of Cincinnati must decide shortly about the future of the city-owned Lunken Airport.
A corporate jet taxis at Lunken Airport. If the airport is allowed to expand, jets there could get bigger.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/GLENN HARTONG
Air Traffic Control Specialist Janet Brakenwagen works in the tower Friday at Lunken Airport.
The question: Should this historic airfield, now used for small corporate, recreation and charter air service, grow over the next 20 years? And if it does grow, by how much, and at what cost to neighbors?
To residents from Mount Lookout to Mount Washington, how the city answers this question will determine whether they have any clout at City Hall.
To corporations that have planes at Lunken - covering more land than LaGuardia Airport in New York and once the largest municipal airport in the United States - the question will determine whether they can grow their operations there.
If Lunken doesn't grow, some say they will be forced to move to another an airport with longer runways, heavier weight limits for planes and more hangar space.One such corporation, Procter & Gamble Co., has already ordered a new, larger plane that eventually will need an expanded airport.
Neighbors, however, fear that if Lunken expands, more and larger planes will be flying over their homes.
"Once you open the floodgates, that's it," says John Kluesener of Mount Lookout.
"All of a sudden you have airplanes coming in maybe five years from now (and) they want to add more," he said. "And then all of a sudden you have no neighborhood and people say, 'We're out of here.' "
Once runways are built for newer aircraft, neighbors fear the airport's Federal Aviation Administration certification, which now limits aircraft size to 30 seats, will have to be changed. And once the airport allows larger jets for some businesses, it may not be able to stop use of larger aircraft for charter flights.
Two studies in progress
The FAA, the federal agency that regulates all aviation nationwide, must approve a noise study and master plan update on Lunken, both of which should conclude this year. The agency oversees federal funding for airports, including Lunken.
City Council is expected to decide Lunken's future this spring or summer as the two studies wrap up.
One study examines noise at and around the airport. That should be complete by the end of March. The other is Lunken's first master plan update since 1989.
Businesses, airport users, neighbors, engineers, environmental experts and others are helping advise city administration, City Council and consultants on the noise study and master plan update:
Cincinnati Department of Transportation and Engineering: oversees the 1,140-acre airport.
Cincinnati City Council: has part of the final say on the airport's future.
Federal Aviation Administration: also must approve the noise study and master plan update.
PB Aviation, Inc.: downtown Cincinnati consulting firm working on the master plan update and the noise study.
Lunken Airport Oversight Advisory Board: nine-member, City Council-appointed board to make recommendations about the airport.
Citizens Technical Advisory Group (CTAG): city-formed advisory group of more than 75 members for the master plan; a 16-member "inner ring" votes.
Planning Advisory Committee: 25-member, city-formed board representing neighborhoods, airport users, and regional organizations that oversee and provide input on the noise study.
Lunken Airport Advisory and Users Committee: City Council-formed board of corporate airport users and neighbors.
Lunken Neighborhood Coalition: Residents from Mount Lookout to Indian Hill who are concerned about noise from planes and are fighting airport expansion.
Friends of Lunken: Airport users, employees and others who want the airport to expand.
Lunken, established as a permanent airfield in 1925, served as a refueling stop for Charles Lindbergh between New York and St. Louis before and after his trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. It is also known as the birthplace of American Airlines, which started as a mail carrier and parent company of local mail carrier Embry-Riddle Co.
The 1,140-acre airport complex hasn't had regularly scheduled service since 1963, except a short-lived attempt in 1990.
Today, more than 260 aircraft are based at Lunken, which recorded 116,213 arrivals and departures in 2003. (In 1976, at Lunken's peak operations, there were 223,296 arrivals and departures.) By comparison, there were 487,001 operations in 2003 at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.
Council members weigh in
Three city council members who are speaking out about Lunken's future are convinced a compromise can be reached to please both the neighborhoods and airport corporate users.
The last thing Cincinnati wants or needs, they say, are more residents and corporations leaving the city.
Councilman Jim Tarbell maintains the city must support the airport's modernization. He refuses to call it an expansion.
City leaders have taken great pains to listen to neighbors' concerns about Lunken, Tarbell notes.
"I haven't seen an issue more actively debated than this one in the six years I have been on council. You can keep debating while Rome burns," Tarbell said. "You aren't going to get anything done. Let us get on with it."
Said Councilman David Pepper: "I think we can come up with ways to make sure it's a viable, healthy airport but also make sure those neighborhoods are as strong as they have ever been.
"But if we see some of the major airport stakeholders and businesses leave, then we are going to be running around trying to figure out how to keep this place from becoming a massive dead zone in the middle of a neighborhood."
Councilman John Cranley wants to look into whether new legislation is needed ensuring that if the weight limits are raised at Lunken to accommodate some jets, the airport won't be required by the FAA to allow larger charter and commercial service.
"There has to be a way to write regulations to allow P&G to get its jet in but forbid scheduled commercial airlines from making Lunken some sort of a hub or stop of any kind," he said. "It's going to take some hard work and maybe some lobbying efforts at the federal level. Maybe it means congressional intervention.
"The vision cannot be, this is an alternative to Greater Cincinnati airport," he said. "We do not want this to be a great commercial airport."
Quality of life a concern
East-side residents are banding together to try to protect their homes from more planes buzzing overhead.
Street captains are being named in Mount Washington to better distribute airport information. In Mount Lookout, more than 70 residents recently packed a community council meeting to discuss Lunken.
Mary Jo Vandenberg, Mount Lookout council's president, said her neighborhood's home ownership is the second-highest in the city's 52 neighborhoods.
"We want to continue to support the general and corporate users down there," she said. "Having said that, when you make changes to runway lengths and strengths and certifications, you open the door up far beyond what it would require to support the current users.
"Our concern is about how do we find a happy medium, or reaching a solution that will support the corporate users, yet not have a detrimental effect on the long-term quality of life, environment and property values of the surrounding neighborhoods."
Not all eastern Cincinnati neighborhoods oppose Lunken's expansion.
East End Area Council President Brian Breneman said residents in this community aren't against larger jets at Lunken.
"We aren't out campaigning for it, but we aren't opposed," he said. "We believe that newer, more efficient aircraft are also quieter."
A March 25 workshop is planned at the Carnegie Center in Columbia Tusculum to discuss expansion.
Options include using some or most of the neighboring Reeves Golf Course, and relocating a nearby levee.
Airport stakeholders will whittle down the options for the master plan update, said Eileen Enabnit, director of the city's department of transportation and engineering, which oversees the airport."This is one of the toughest things I have ever worked on," she said. "We are trying to strike a balance."
Airport users chafe at delays
Like the neighbors, airport users have grown more anxious and vocal.
Last month, many of the more than 100 people who packed a committee hearing at City Hall were airport users, employees and others supporting Lunken.
They urged city leaders to expand the airport's runways and weight-bearing capacity for planes or risk losing its economic promise.
Tom Edwards, a private airport user who also runs Lunken's flight depot, contends neighbors have delayed expansion at the airport for years.
"We feel like the neighborhoods have grown up around the airport and take no responsibility for their actions knowing there is an airport here," said Edwards, also chairman of aviation administration at Northern Kentucky University.
"The airport shouldn't make all the concessions. If we say we don't want any more jets in here, we are saying we don't want any more business," he said.
"If they don't raise the weight limit, this may send a signal to major corporations that they are not welcome to bring their airplanes here. They will go to Kentucky."
SPECIAL REPORT: A YEAR IN IRAQ
Special section home
Coming home, changed by war
Finding purpose, perspective
Voices from the survey
City decides soon on Lunken
Chesley: Bengals are just 'bullying'
IN THE TRISTATE
Green's the thing at annual Celtic Lands Culture Fest
A Helping Hand
Franklin schools slashing services
Public safety briefs
Market canvassed for leads in slaying
Shooting spree case prepped
As Christians, let's embrace our sameness
Radel: Ruby Wright will live on in the echoes of her music
Good Things Happening
Mary Lynn Gaefe shared dad's love of social causes
'Aunt Lib' Stillwell loved family, travel
Church divided over loan
Lane's End top racing party