Road Warrior

Wichita's airport decides it really likes Ike

Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC
A new terminal being built at Wichita airport will replace the one that opened in 1954. By the time construction is completed in spring 2015, the airport will have a new name: Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.
Source: Wichita Mid-Continent Airport

History buffs and frequent travelers know there are U.S. airports named for Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Gerald R. Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Soon, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the nation's 34th president, will have an airport named in his honor, too.

In response to a local petition campaign that gained support from city commissioners in Abilene, Kan., home of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood home, the Wichita City Council voted last week to change the name of the city's Mid-Continent Airport to the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.

The resolution moves now to the Wichita Airport Authority, which will vote on the name change in early April.

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"The authority board members are the same as the city council members," said Victor White, executive director of airports at the Wichita Airport Authority, "so we expect it to go through and a formal document sent to the Federal Aviation Administration."

Once FAA approval is secured, the name change could become effective around March 2015, when a new $200 million terminal and parking project to serve the airport's 1.5 million annual passengers is complete.

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The airports' identifying code, ICT, would remain the same since IKE already belongs to Ikerasak Heliport in Greenland.

"Only a handful of airports are named after former presidents, and this would put us in a unique group," said White. And while "renaming serves the wonderful purpose of recognizing the only president raised in Kansas, it's a lot of work and could end up costing several hundred thousand dollars."

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While the airport authority would not have to pay for replacing highway signs off airport property, it would have to pay to replace marketing materials that bear the airport's current name and purchase other items such as new uniforms and decals for airport vehicles.

A statue of Eisenhower and a display telling his life story might be paid for by donations or corporate sponsors, said White, but there will be also be expenses associated with a new logo and a new image campaign.

The airport's current tag line—"Convenient. Friendly. Affordable"—will also be changed, perhaps to something that takes a cue from the "I Like Ike" tag line popular from the 1952 presidential campaign and referenced often by supporters of the airport name-change.

This sign at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport has been demolished to make way for a new $200 million terminal and parking structure to open in 2015.
Source: Wichita Mid-Continent Airport

"Our marketing firm is chomping at the bit," said White. "So I'm sure we'll have some fun with that."

Although rebranding will cost money, it could boost the airport's bottom line, said Neal Burns, director of the Center for Brand Research at the University of Texas at Austin.

"Airports are essentially businesses," he said. "One of the things you have to hope is that the airport will be viewed more favorably and have more esteem nationally and internationally and be able to charge more for advertising space on the walls."

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As it works through the process, the Wichita Airport Authority has been getting helpful advice from the staff at Arkansas' Little Rock National Airport, which last year was officially renamed to honor former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary, who served as a senator and secretary of state.

In 2013, Little Rock National Airport was renamed Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.
Source: Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport

"We shared with the Wichita staff our experience in working with the FAA to file the necessary paperwork to process the name change and how we created our new brand," said Shane Carter, spokesman for the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

Little Rock is home to the Clinton Presidential Center and is now Arkansas' No. 1 attraction for out-of-state visitors. Since plans for the center were announced, approximately $2.5 billion in economic development has been invested in downtown Little Rock, said Carter.

The Little Rock airport was completing a $67 million construction initiative when the renaming occurred and so the expense for new signage was budgeted into the project.

"New stationery, interior signage and uniforms were ordered as needed," said Carter, "and the airport is also working with the Clinton Foundation to produce two exhibits to be located inside the airport."

—By Harriet Baskas, special to Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas. Follow Road Warrior at @CNBCtravel.