Constructed in an era when flight was coming of age, the Akron-Canton Airport has always benefitted from having impeccable timing.
This was the takeaway from Akron-Canton Airport CEO and President, Rick McQueen, during the CAK Runway 5-K and Akron-Canton Airport Aviation Heritage Day on Oct. 8 at the MAPS Air Museum – a celebration of the airport’s 70th anniversary..
"This is (an example of) Stark and Summit counties coming together – truly the shared services that we talk about so much now – in the 1940s," McQueen said.
In addition to the sold-out 5 K event, which included 1,700 runners racing along the CAK taxiways, the event featured free admission to MAPS Air Museum with a donation of a non-perishable food item to the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank; "touch-a-truck (and planes)," including CAK fire engines, CAK snow removal trucks, City of Green fire engines and EMS vehicles, Humvee vehicles from the Army National Guard, and vehicles from the Summit County Sheriff Department; flight simulator demonstrations from the Portage Lakes Career Center’s aviation program; and exhibits from CAK airline partners as well as TSA, the Akron-Canton Regional Food Bank, and the City of Green.
Storied history celebrated
McQueen said that while some airports of its size are certainly older, the past 70 years have seen a number of opportune improvements, including runway extensions that, which current technology, can now accommodate flights as far as South America.
"The runways are somewhat of a ‘build it and they will come’," McQueen said of the rationale behind the extensions. "If an airline says it wants to run to San Francisco and you say, ‘I can’t now, but I will be able to in 10 years,’ number one, that airline contact you are talking to probably won’t even be there in 10 years. So they are going to go somewhere else."
With runway length keeping the airport standing in good stead for decades, McQueen said CAK’s next physical upgrades will be focused inside.
A planned $35 million project to repair and renovate the five American and Delta airlines gates is expected to begin in the summer of 2017 and continue for the following 18 months, with no expected flight delays during the construction process.
"We will be making it sized right for the gate space; the entire area is too small," McQueen said.
Opened with a grand two-day ceremony Oct. 12 and 13, 1946, following its two-year, $2 million construction, United Airlines became the first commercial flight out of CAK on July 1, 1948, with three passengers.
By 1959, the FAA had approved federal funds for improvements including runway extensions, taxiway, apron from parking aircraft, and a new terminal building – which was completed in 1962.
"Before that, there was just a metal, military building," McQueen said.
Improvements continued over the next two decades, including runway extensions from 5,600 feet to 7,600 feet in 1986 and major terminal upgrades in 1991 and 2006.
But it was a chance for a hands-on step back in time that drew most fans to MAPS for the anniversary event.
"The best part is getting inside and hearing about them," said 10-year-old Naomi Pledgure, of the vintage aircraft on display.
Naomi, of Plain Township, attended the event with her mother, Corkisha, and siblings Da’mon, 6, and Josiah, 12.
"I like the gadgets," Josiah said of his "flight" in a Vietnam War-era fighter jet. Meanwhile, Da’mon was a fan of the fire trucks.
The Murphy family, of Jackson Township – Sam and his sons Noah and Michael, their wives Christina and Jody, and Noah and Christina’s sons, Luke and Joshua – got a thorough truck-identification lesson from 5-year-old Luke.
"I actually had three people tell me we have to come to this because he likes trucks so much." Christina laughed as Luke examined vehicles from the airport’s fleet of seven brooms, three fire ladder trucks, five plows and two blowers.
"He even knows the difference between a Bobcat and a Skid Steer," proud grandpa, Sam said. "This is a great event for the whole family; we are really enjoying it."