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Future uncertain for Burke Lakefront Airport as city officials talk closure

The future of Burke Lakefront Airport (BKL) is in the air as its operations dwindle and the prime piece of waterfront property it sits on is eyed by developers. Burke sits on 450 acres of Cleveland, Ohio lakefront land, and its primary function is to serve as a reliever airport for the much larger Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) roughly 15 miles away. City officials have been in talks for the last few months about the possibility of closing Burke. The airport has seen a steady decrease in use in recent decades, leaving many in the city to wonder if the land could be better used for a park or commercial and residential development. Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb has been open about the future of Burke. While running as a Mayoral candidate in September, Bibb said that he was undecided on whether Burke should be decommissioned, but did suggest it would be "on the table." His predecessor, longtime Mayor Frank Jackson, was a staunch proponent of keeping the airport open. Sarah Johnson, chief communications officer for Bibb, said the administration was not ready to talk about plans for Burke airport. "It has always baffled me that we have a massive piece of property on our waterfront that is owned by the citizens of Cleveland that is fenced off by barbed wire and that the people of Cleveland have no access to," said Kerry McCormack, Cleveland City Councilman. "I think it's morally wrong." The Burke Lakefront Airport is most often used as a general aviation airport, facilitating charter flights, medical transport, and three flight schools on the grounds. With close proximity to major sporting arenas within the city, visiting sports teams and fans are typical users of the two runways. Ultimate Air Shuttle, the last remaining commercial carrier flying out of Burke, suspended its operations in December due to COVID-19 obstacles. The airline's expected return date to the airport is unknown. Traffic volume hit its peak in 2000, with just over 100,000 takeoffs and landings, according to Cleveland, but fell 10 years later to just under 54,000. In 2021, the airport logged 40,296 takeoffs and landings, a number not far off from the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. Burke Lakefront Airport operations have dropped nearly 60% in the last 20 years, with 2022's numbers unlikely to be an anomaly. Closing an airport is not a simple process, and there are multiple economic factors to consider before even approaching the FAA. First, the FAA has granted millions in funding for airport improvements, all of which would likely need to be repaid if the airport closes. As part of the FAA's Airport Improvement Program in 2021, Cleveland was awarded nearly $32.75 million to combat the spread of pathogens at both Cleveland Hopkins and Burke Lakefront airports. Second, the city must consider the impact on Cleveland Hopkins, which has used Burke as a reliever for years. Cleveland Hopkins is planning for a major, $2 billion, 20-year overhaul, which could include a new larger terminal, concourses, and a redesigned traffic flow. With construction on the horizon, the mix of general aviation traffic with larger airliners at Hopkins could cause major delays and confusion. But the city is no closer to closing Burke than it was a year ago, with approval needed first from the FAA. Lastly, Burke Lakefront does provide economic benefit to the region through the Cleveland Air Show, which attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually on Labor Day Weekend. But the city is no closer to closing Burke than it was a year ago, with approval needed first from the FAA.
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