Friday, February 23, 2001

Sky-high fares


Maybe it's time for a new airport

map
        Everybody gripes about pricey fares at the airport.

        But nobody does anything about them.

        Except Bill Murphy.

        He's busy drumming up support to build a new airport in Southern Ohio.

        “An airport in Northern Kentucky does not benefit Ohio,” he told me as we stood in his downtown Hallmark store.

        “The time's right to create competition, lower prices and put an airport on this side of the river.”

        He's already picked a spot: 30 square miles (nearly three times as big as Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport) of flat farmland off Interstate 71 in Greene County. Driving time: 59 minutes from downtown; 15 minutes from booming Warren County.

        Bill Murphy is a dreamer and a doer. His record and card shop helped open Kenwood Towne Centre's predecessor — Kenwood Plaza. When Hallmark created stand-alone stores, he got the first in Cincinnati.

        He realizes he's not the only one fed up with paying through the nose to fly out of the airport in Boone County.

        Some value-conscious Greater Cincinnatians drive for hours to cash in on cheaper flights. Last year, Indianapolis' airport handled 7 million passengers — 112,000 from Ohio.

        While others visit distant airports, Bill studies maps of Greene County. The veteran pilot has crisscrossed the area by plane. He feels the land bounded by I-71 to the south and U.S. 35 to the north is airport-worthy.

        “The land's flat enough,” noted Robert Geyer, Greene County engineer. Near Xenia, it is not in tornado alley. “The fields don't get struck by what the Shawnee Indians called the Devil Winds.”

        They do get periodic once-overs from dreamers.

        “We hear this idea for an airport every five or 10 years,” said Robert Schroeder, county planning director.

        “It makes common sense. The spot is almost equidistant from Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus.

        “But — with the Northern Kentucky airport — it doesn't make sense politically.”

        Bill Murphy believes politics can make his dream a reality. He sees the stars aligned in the airport's favor. And, they're all in the constellation of the Republican Party — from the governor's office to the White House.

        Offering a ride to his airfield of dreams, Bill took me to a land where stands of leafless trees separate empty fields that in summer grow corn, soybeans, melons and green peppers. Near the I-71 interchange, a new gravel pit is under construction.

        “Gravel makes roads,” Bill said as we passed road graders cutting into the rich, black soil. “And runways.”

        The village of Bowersville sits near the interstate exit Bill views as the airport's gateway. Stopping at the Mini Mart for gas, he talked about urging supporters of a Southern Ohio airport to contact politicians in Columbus and Washington.

        Sam Brown, the Mini Mart's owner, would welcome an international airport in his back yard. “It'd bring the county business.”

        He could fly anywhere.

        “St. Louis?”

        Definitely.

        “Never been there,” he said. Then he admitted: “I've never been on a plane.”

        Such a remark might deflate a lesser man's balloon. Not Bill Murphy's.

        Always the dreamer and the doer, he saw Sam Brown not as a non-flyer — but as a potential passenger.

       Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.
       

       



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