AOPA is warning mayoral candidates in Cleveland, Ohio, to keep their hands off of Burke Lakefront Airport.
"AOPA will work diligently to defeat any attempts to close this valuable community resource," wrote AOPA President Phil Boyer in a letter to all the candidates. "With the recent focus on the need for additional airport and runway capacity, closing Burke (a designated FAA reliever airport) could have a detrimental impact on delays at Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport. We doubt the FAA will be willing to accept the negative consequences associated with allowing Burke Lakefront to close."
At least five candidates running for mayor of Cleveland want to close the airport and develop the property or turn it into a lakefront park. These politicians have noted the similarities between Burke and Chicago's Meigs.
"But these comparisons are seriously flawed," said Boyer, "and they raise questions about these candidates' commitment to linking Cleveland to the rest of the nation through a viable air transportation network."
Boyer reminded the candidates that the city of Cleveland had willingly accepted more than $3.5 million in federal Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds to improve the airport. And the city has proposed a $55 million development project for Burke that will use additional federal money.
These federal grants obligate the city to keep the airport open for 20 years. Some of the mayoral candidates have said that the FAA allowed Chicago to repay its grants in order to close Meigs, but AOPA told them there were big differences between Meigs and Burke.
Chicago doesn't own the land underneath Meigs airport. Because of that, the FAA wrote a special waiver into its grants to Chicago allowing for repayment. Those waivers don't exist for Cleveland.
AOPA also reminded the candidates of how important Burke Lakefront Airport is to their community.
"Burke plays a vital role in emergency medical care through the operation of MetroLife flights from the facility," said Boyer. "When time is critical, Burke is the airport of choice."
Burke is also an economic engine for the city. More than 100,000 flights a year operate out of Burke airport. Each one of those flights generates economic activity at the airport and surrounding area.
A 1995 study by the Ohio Department of Transportation concluded that more than 1,700 area jobs were directly related to Burke and that the airport generated an economic impact of more than $61 million a year.
Burke airport is also home to the Cleveland Grand Prix and the Labor Day airshow, which both bring thousands of visitors to the city.
"We urge you to consider the possibilities of developing compatible property, such as the now-planned auto museum, on areas surrounding the airport," Boyer told the candidates. "Airports are economic development and growth gems. Consider the opportunities that your airport provides for long-term growth and benefits."
The 370,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the world's largest civil aviation organization. More than one half of the nation's pilots are AOPA members, as are more than 13,000 Ohio pilots.