Friday, March 30, 2012

An end to adventure at Blue Ash Airport

There is just something about driving along Glendale-Milford Road in Blue Ash on a sunny spring day, having the shadow of a what appears to be a giant dragonfly cross over your head and a nimble Cessna 172 float down onto a runway before you.

Frank Sinatra is singing, “Let’s get away from it all,” or should be.

The executive who steps out of the plane looks like he’s heading home to a family dinner after a quick business trip, or could be.

Brightly painted Navajo Chieftains and Cirrus SR22s look ready to jump into the air at a moment’s notice. And air travel, and life, seem as simple as they used to be.

After more than 30 years of debate between the cities of Cincinnati and Blue Ash, the Blue Ash Airport is scheduled to close in early June.

Its loss is about more than the City of Cincinnati shedding properties or suburban land coming open for development.

The 91-year-old airport is not only a rare Hamilton County asset, it is a state of mind.

What nearby resident hasn’t watched a quick take-off from the 3,500-foot runway and dreamed of the days when a flight to Chicago took an hour, start to finish, and didn’t require body scans or baggage hassles?
Who can imagine parking your car and being in the air 10 minutes later? Or – unique to Blue Ash – arriving from out of town and literally walking across the street to your hotel?

What Glendale-Milford Road traveler doesn’t find some sense of relief at the wide expanse of airport land, rustic structures and jaunty planes breaking up the corporate sprawl?

Other regional airports will be happy to snap up services. But once the airport is closed, Blue Ash will never be quite Blue Ash again.

No new development will make up for the sense of adventure, spontaneity and romance of a small, historic airport, or of the people connected to it.

Duncan Latta is the mechanic for Aviators Flight Center at the airport, who also flies animal rescue missions. Recently, he took one leg of a Mississippi-to-New York mission to save a litter of pups about to be euthanized.

Bob Larbes started working at the airport in 1941 as a line boy, washing windshields and cleaning tobacco chew off the side of airplanes. He became a pilot, flew Flying Fortresses in World War II and returned to Blue Ash to become a legendary flight instructor, putting more than 1,000 local residents in the sky.

Brian Rust is a businessman whose company moved nearby in part because of the airport. He finds flying out of Blue Ash not just cost effective, but exciting. “I’m sitting beside the pilot and he’s telling me to look down here, or showing me what a gauge does,” he says. “It takes the fear out of flying.”

For Don Bang, who took flying lessons at the airport at age 78, the airport is “a passion thing.”

For businessman and pilot Ted Catino, it’s economic development – a drawing card Blue Ash needs.

 “The people who come here are adventurous and have a unique lifestyle, and having those people in your community changes the community,” he says. “Lose the airport, and they’ll go elsewhere.”

But wherever they go, they’ll never find exactly what Blue Ash Airport was – personal, informal, charming, simple, stitched right into the side of a suburban community.

Jim Kirby flies his family out of the airport to see relatives in Akron and Florida, sometimes reserving a plane at 7 a.m. and being in the air by 9 a.m.

With his dad at the controls, 3½-year-old Jason Kirby sits in a carseat beside him, listening to air traffic control with a headset and greeting take-off with, “Go, go, go!”

“I’m still hoping,” his dad says wistfully, “that when he’s 10, he can start take flying lessons here.”

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