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From Humble Beginnings...to an International HubIntroduction
For more than 200 years, nature and man have combined forces to establish the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area as a transportation gateway for the nation.
The first glimpse that early travelers had of Cincinnati was from the Ohio River. After floating for days through wilderness forests, they would suddenly come upon a bustling city sprawled on a broad river basin.
As the original gateway to the ever-expanding frontier, Cincinnati used its central location on the river to become a transportation hub for the burgeoning nation. By the time steamboats began plying the river, one in three of the nation's riverboats originated in Cincinnati.
By the second half of the 19th century, steel rails expanded commerce across the land. Greater Cincinnati became an important rail link between the Great Lakes and the nation's inland waterways.
The expanding world marketplace of post-World War II would demand an even faster mode of transportation. Greater Cincinnati would reach for the sky from a plateau high above the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky.
From a single terminal in 1947, the airport would grow into a major international gateway – today serving as many passengers in one year as it handled in its first two decades. Along with this growth, CVG would become a major driver of the local economy, helping to support more than 50,000 tri-state jobs.
The airport's location in Boone County grew out of the need to find a flood-free location. Flooding and frequent fog had long plagued Cincinnati's Lunken Airport, which was located in the river valley east of Cincinnati.
As the Army Air Corps geared up to build airfields for pilot training, officials in Northern Kentucky seized the opportunity to secure federal funding for an alternate airport. Brent Spence, a congressman from Northern Kentucky, first planted the seed by sending a letter to the Kentucky Post that made headlines: "Kentucky Could Get Cincinnati Airport."
Spence's letter was a response to two things: The City of Cincinnati remained committed to Lunken and had declined to participate in the federal airfield program. Hamilton County, Ohio, voters had recently rejected a bond issue for a new airport.
Elected officials and civic organizations in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties rallied behind the idea of a new airport in Northern Kentucky, sending letters to U.S. Sen. Alben Barkley and Rep. Spence urging their support.
Boone County, the least developed of the three counties, had plenty of suitable farmland that was flat, inexpensive and close to the city. Early in 1941 Boone County officials agreed to sponsor the project as long as neighboring Kenton County paid for the land purchase.
President Franklin Roosevelt approved preliminary funds for site development on Feb. 11, 1942. Formal approval of the four runways and $2 million came the following October. Within a year, executives from American, Delta and TWA formally signed on to the project.
The new airfield in Boone County opened on Aug. 12, 1944. Three days later, B-17 bombers began making practice landings and takeoffs. By this time, WWII was winding to a close. The Army Air Corps used the new field only about a year before declaring the airfield surplus property.
Boone County Airline was the first air carrier, operating out of a modest wood-frame building. Local officials quickly set about constructing a three-story brick terminal. A crowd of more than 35,000 people turned out on Oct. 27, 1946, to witness the dedication.
Out of the bright morning sky on Jan. 10, 1947, an American Airlines DC-3 touched down at the new Greater Cincinnati Airport (followed within minutes by Delta and TWA flights). Hundreds of local citizens cheered as the pilot nosed the plane up to the terminal. The new airport was open for business.
CVG saw modest growth from the late '40s through the 1950s. With the dawn of the '60s, jets brought air travel to the masses as planes grew larger, faster and more comfortable. Delta was the first to introduce commercial jet service at CVG with a Convair 880 on Dec. 16, 1960. Over the next 10 years, annual traffic numbers would double to more than two million.
Along with this growth, terminals had be expanded and updated. CVG added two new terminals in 1974. Once again, more than 35,000 people came to the open house on Sept. 14 and 15 to walk through the new buildings and tour the planes. Famed astronaut Neil Armstrong delivered the principal address highlighted by a formation of fighter jets soaring overhead. (Armstrong would go on to serve two years on the airport's board of directors from 1975-1977.)
Comair started at CVG in 1977 with two small planes flying to Evansville, Indiana. After becoming a feeder carrier for Delta in 1984, Comair would grow to become one of the largest commuter airlines by the mid '90s.
Following airline deregulation in 1979, CVG began to experience growth unparalleled in its history. As a Delta hub, CVG would become a major international gateway--growing from 35 nonstop destinations to more than 120, including Europe and Canada.
On Dec. 16, 1986, CVG underwent the largest single-day service increase in the history of aviation when Delta added 60 daily departures to its local schedule. Six months later, Delta added 21 more daily departures, pushing its CVG total to 126.
By 1987 Delta had expanded its number of gates to 40 with the addition of Concourse A. That June, Delta added nonstop service to London, marking the first of many nonstop flights to Europe.
"The thing I have enjoyed the most and felt the best about in my many years at CVG was the inauguration of our first international flight to London. I've always felt that opened up our community to being a player in the global marketplace," said Robert Holscher, director of aviation since 1975.
To handle the phenomenal growth, CVG dedicated a new north-south runway in January 1991. In the decade that followed, CVG became one of the nation's fastest-growing airports as the number of annual passengers doubled to more than 20 million. To minimize any negative impact from noise, CVG would spend more than $100 million on airfield modifications, sound insulation and voluntary property acquisitions.
A $500 million expansion added a new Delta terminal, a new road system and an underground transportation system in 1994. The addition of Concourses B and C increased the number of airline gates to more than 100.
The new millennium brought many challenges to the aviation industry. Following the turmoil and tragedy of 2001, activity at CVG quickly rebounded, peaking at a record 22.8 million passengers and 670 daily departures in 2005.
2006 brought many changes at CVG, as Delta began to down-size its hub. Today CVG still offers nonstop service to more than 70 cities. The opening of a third north-south runway has placed CVG among the most efficient airports in the world.
Back to Our History
Airport founders in front of a Boeing DC-3.
1942: President Roosevelt approves funding.
1943: Ground is broken for a military practice field.
1945: War Dept. declares airfield surplus property.
1947: First commercial flight lands from Cleveland.
1960: First jet service; terminal expanded.
1974: Two terminals added; Terminal 1 remodeled.
1977: Comair begins service with three flights.
1981: Delta announces hub and adds gates.
1984: DHL opens its North American hub.
1987: Concourse A opens; first international flight.
1991: Second north-south runway opens.
1994: Major $500 million terminal expansion.
2005: Activity peaks at 22.8 million passengers.
2005: Third north-south runway boosts efficiency.