November 5, 2013

Wichita considering renaming airport for Eisenhower, appoints committee

The city will appoint a committee to weigh a new name for Mid-Continent Airport: Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower International Airport.

The city will appoint a committee to weigh a new name for Mid-Continent Airport: Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower International Airport.

The naming advisory committee grew out of a one-hour debate at Tuesday’s City Council meeting over whether to rename the new terminal or the entire airport after the nation’s 34th president, a Kansan from Abilene.

The committee came after city staff members said that a new airport name could cost up to $728,000 in required, deferred and optional branding expenses. It came after city staff and council members agreed that a new name would be insignificant to the airport’s bottom line.

And it came after concerns from airport staff that the proposed new name is too long for marketing effectiveness – “I Like Ike” notwithstanding.

The airport does have international traffic, with two full-time U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspectors stationed there to handle direct international general aviation flights that come in from other countries as well as international cargo. There are no airline flights direct from other countries.

The major immediate cost with any name change is Kansas Department of Transportation signage around the area, airport director Victor White said. Those signs, at about $140,000, and other required sign changes bring the initial tab for a name change to about $313,000, City Manager Robert Layton said.

Deferred changes, such as rebranded letterhead, would run about $12,000, Layton said, and other optional changes not specified during the meeting would run about $403,000 over time.

The cost of changing names didn’t daunt council members, with one saying a new airport name could have a profound impact on the city’s attitude about itself.

“I think the renaming of this airport has to do with an attitude our city is going to project to the nation, world and ourselves,” council member James Clendenin said. “I still hear people in this community who have an inferiority complex about our amazing city.

“The current name (Mid-Continent Airport) is a little mediocre. This is about honoring a great president ... and allowing ourselves to be great as well.”

Former Sedgwick County commissioner Dave Bayouth took issue with Clendenin’s view.

“There’s nothing that sells this community more than a Mid-Continent, Air Capital airport,” Bayouth said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to change the name. It’s the greatest name on Earth.”

But council members quickly latched on to attaching Eisenhower’s name to the airport. The only debate was whether to put Eisenhower’s name on just the new terminal, which is currently named ACT III for the third Wichita terminal, or on the entire airport.

Council member Jeff Longwell pushed for putting Eisenhower’s name on just the terminal as a way to limit the costs of any name change.

“Look at the publicity side of calling it the Dwight David Eisenhower Airport Terminal,” Longwell said.

That’s the official position of the airport’s advisory board as well, White said – a board that he described as resistant to an overall name change.

“And as for the airlines, they just say, ‘Whatever name you choose, don’t make it too long,’ ” White said.

But other council members – and the citizens group pushing the name change –want the entire airport to bear Eisenhower’s name.

Jan Harrison, the Wichita radio personality who chairs the citizens committee, said the group is “all in or all out” – either rename the airport entirely or leave the current name in place. Harrison and her co-host, Phil Thompson, on 104.5 The Fox launched an online petition in August supporting the name change. The petition had 1,306 signatures as of Tuesday.

White said city officials and supporters should not expect a bump in business from putting Eisenhower’s name on the airport.

“Changing the name of the airport will not increase the business,” he said. “It will not bring more passengers. It will not bring more general aviation business. It will not attract new industrial aviation business. I don’t think it’s provable to say any of those things could happen.

“Changing the name of the airport should be focused strictly on honoring Ike, and let it be done at that and don’t spend too much time worrying about the costs. It can be done.

“We will get a splash of worldwide publicity if we change the name, but that will peter out. Having the name by itself will not attract interest in Wichita. That will die out,” White said.

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