Thursday, May 20, 2004

Lunken to get longer runway

But council says 'No' to passenger service

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati City Council on Wednesday unanimously agreed that it does not want scheduled commercial passenger service at Lunken Airport, ending an intense debate over the future of the city-owned airfield.

At the same time, council accommodated corporate users of the airport by voting to lengthen the main runway by 900 feet to 7,000 and to raise the weight limit for planes to 100,000 pounds from 70,000.

The decision marks a compromise for most airport users who pushed for expansion and for those neighbors who fought scheduled commercial service.

"This shuts the door on scheduled commercial service unless some future council decides to reverse our policy, which I hope never happens," said Councilman John Cranley, who has pushed hard in recent weeks for the compromise.

"But until then, this is mortgage insurance for residents against increased volume and noise."

The vote thrilled several neighbors in the eastern portion of the city and Hamilton County who keep close watch on Lunken Airport.

Residents from Indian Hill to Mount Lookout to Fort Thomas have fought since 1998 to keep scheduled passenger service out of the airport. More than 260 aircraft are based at Lunken, which serves mostly small recreational aircraft, corporate jets and flight training schools.

Neighbors feared that scheduled service would lead to more noise and hurt their property values. They formed the Lunken Neighborhood Coalition four years ago.

"It speaks volumes that council unanimously voted on this issue and saw the importance, immediacy and urgency of banning scheduled commercial service at Lunken," said the group's vice chairman, Mariemont Councilman Doug Adams.

"It has been a long process to get to this point. We have been working diligently the past four or five years to provide the neighborhoods with what they need and deserve, which is what this ordinance does."

Corporate users also were buoyed by Wednesday's vote. Companies such as Procter & Gamble had pushed the city to modernize the airport. Otherwise, P&G officials warned, they would have to relocate their fleet of planes.

"All we ever wanted was to raise the weight limit and runway length," said Tom Edwards, who represents airport tenants on the Lunken Airport Oversight Advisory Board and runs Lunken's flight depot. "Let's prosper and not even worry about this airline stuff."

Extending the runway length is expected to cost $2.5 million and take three to five years. Increasing the weight limit to 100,000 pounds would allow larger planes to land.

Lunken, established as a permanent airfield in 1925, hasn't had regularly scheduled service since 1963, except for a short-lived attempt in 1990.

Council's vote came as two studies on the airport are wrapping up. One studies noise, and the other is the airport's first master plan update since the late 1980s. The noise study should land before City Council by the end of June; the master plan won't go to council until fall.

Wednesday's vote amends a 2002 ordinance that says the city administration isn't supposed to actively solicit scheduled commercial service at Lunken.

The airport manager, Dan Dickten, has been placed on paid leave while the city investigates how he used his e-mail to promote business at the airport. He vigorously opposed Cranley's position on scheduled commercial service.

Councilman Jim Tarbell, who has said he doesn't think scheduled commercial service should be ruled out at Lunken, said he felt he had no choice Wednesday but to vote against it.

"I would hope as time progresses there will be options to revisit this again. But, for the time being, it's better to just get this part behind us and focus on the noise study and master plan."

In recent months, two companies, JetLink Express Inc. of Denver and Flamingo Express Inc. at Lunken, applied to the city to begin scheduled service on planes of 30 seats or less to Chicago.

JetLink recently withdrew its request, but Flamingo's president, Sharon McGee, said Wednesday that the company won't give up despite council's unanimous vote.

Flamingo Express now offers charter service and sightseeing flights over Cincinnati.

"We feel that the ordinary businesspeople as well as leisure travelers should have the right to utilize the convenience of Lunken Airport just like the corporate bigwigs do," McGee said.

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