Why Is Our Airport in Kentucky?

July 06, 2018

CVG circa 1954

One of the many things that make Cincinnati unique is the fact that our main airport is located in another state. This has puzzled local and out-of-town travelers alike for years. It wasn’t supposed to be that way of course.

Cincinnati’s first major airport was Lunken Airfield which opened in 1925 and is still in operation today. Commercial air service followed just a few years later. In 1930, the facility became known as Lunken Airport and was the largest municipal airport in the world. In 1937, the terminal building, still familiar to Cincinnati residents, was opened. Three years later, in 1940, American Airlines was founded at Lunken.

The airport should have continued to grow along with the air travel industry after World War II, but there were a few problems. First of all, the airfield was highly susceptible to flooding being located on the floodplain of two rivers, the Little Miami and Ohio. Second, its location in a valley made a fog a common occurrence. Third, the neighborhoods in the surrounding hills were continuing to grow and residents weren’t keen on the idea of increased air traffic over their homes. As early as 1938, a year after one of the area’s most devastating floods, city leaders were looking for a better option to handle Cincinnati’s air travel needs.

The Blue Ash Airport, then called Watson Field, seemed like a good candidate. It had opened in 1925 as Grisard Field and by 1928 commercial flights were being made from there to Louisville and Cleveland. Although, not as close to downtown as Lunken, Watson Field was mostly dry and fog resistant.

After World War II, the city of Cincinnati initiated plans to expand the Blue Ash facility, but local residents weren’t having it. Indeed, the community of Blue Ash incorporated as a village in 1955, and as a city in 1961, largely to fight the plan. Three failed bond measures, political disagreements, and Cincinnati’s failure take part in the federal airfield program all combined to kill the plan. Meanwhile, across the river, a group of savvy officials in Kenton County had been moving ahead with plans to bring the area’s commercial airport permanently to Northern Kentucky.

In 1944, the U.S. Army Air Corps opened a training base in neighboring Boone County, near Hebron. However, it was used for less than a year as the war drew to a close. A coalition of officials from Kenton, Boone, and Campbell County formed what would become the Kenton County Airport board and sprang into action. Shortly after the Army left, a terminal building opened on October 27, 1946. On January 10, 1947, the first commercial flight landed at the airport. Officials in Cincinnati saw this as a temporary situation and continued their ultimately unsuccessful efforts to bring the area’s main commercial airport to Blue Ash.

By 1960, when the first jet airliner landed at The Greater Cincinnati Airport in Boone County, the area’s commercial air facility was permanently in Northern Kentucky. CVG, for Covington, the Kenton County seat, was chosen as the airport code.

The main terminal building was expanded in 1960 and again in 1974 as two more terminal buildings were added. In 1980, the concourse of Terminal D (later called Terminal 3) was expanded, and in 1987 an additional 22 gets were extended out to the east of that concourse. This is now the current Concourse A.

The expansion was part of Delta Airline’s decision to start using CVG as a hub. Concourse B was added in 1993 as the Terminal D building was completely rebuilt and renamed Terminal 3. An underground train was also added to connect all 3 buildings. Concourse C, accessible only by bus, was also built around this time by locally-based regional airline Comair.

Today, only the Terminal 3 building remains, along with Concourses A and B. The original terminal building, as well as Terminal 2 (formerly Terminal C). Delta Airlines’ decision to drastically reduce flights and rely less on CVG as a hub temporarily cast a shadow on the airport's future.

However, an influx of new airlines in the past few years, and a slight uptick in Delta flights, has ushered in a new era for CVG.

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