When closet urban planners consider open land for development in Cleveland, their attention often is directed at Burke Lakefront Airport. That isn’t the only thing they direct at Burke. They also direct ridicule, scorn and even outright hatred for that 450-acre plot of former lakefront landfill that opened as an airport in 1948.
The reasons are many: Burke flight operations are down to fewer than 100 flights per day on average, a 60 percent drop compared to 20 years ago. It costs the city several million dollars per year to keep Burke open and operating. And its service as a reliever airport for Hopkins International Airport isn’t justified when Hopkins’ flight operations are down to a daily average of 350 flights vs. 500 in 2013 — the last year of United Airlines’ hub operation here.
That has led some to suggest reimbursing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for roughly $10 million in capital improvements made at Burke in the 21st century and closing down the airport. Then the airport could be repurposed with a mix of real estate developments and public parks along Cleveland’s most precious natural resource.
But what if someone wanted to actually use Burke for, say, an airport?
It’s starting to happen with more air operations planned.
|Prior to boarding, Ultimate Air Shuttle’s morning flight to
Cincinnati Lunken Field sits on the tarmac at Burke Lake-
front Airport. The public charter operator will expand its
Cleveland-Cincinnati flight schedule in March (KJP).
The only airline serving Burke right now is Ultimate Air Shuttle — a hybrid commercial airline and public charter operator that operates on published schedules. That’s how passengers are able to avoid the security screening at larger airports handling common carrier airlines. There’s also no checked baggage, which isn’t really needed anyway since most customers are business travelers making same-day or, at most, overnight stays in their destination city.
Ultimate Air Shuttle is growing. It’s based at Cincinnati’s Lunken Field, once the city’s main airport before Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) opened during World War II. CVG saw its first commercial flight in 1947, an American Airlines DC3 from Cleveland, of all places.
Starting in 2009, Ultimate Air Shuttle has grown to offer five routes out of Cincinnati Lunken, including a twice-daily (weekdays only) schedule between Cleveland and Cincinnati. That service has grown so popular that it is starting a third daily Cleveland-Cincinnati flight on a midday schedule on March 16.
But the most exciting prospect is yet to come.
That prospect is coming in the form of a new start-up airline called Breeze Airways based in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jet Blue Airlines founder David Neelman has requested an Air Operating Certificate with the FAA and has identified airports it would like to serve. Reports are that Breeze would make T.F. Greene Airport in Providence, RI its hub.
|Artist’s rendering of a Breeze Airways Airbus A220-300 (Breeze).
On a map of prospective routes, it shows Providence flights to Orlando-Sanford, FL, St. Petersburg, FL, Oakland, CA, San Jose, CA, Contra Costa, CA, Orange County, CA, Burbank, CA, Ontario, CA and McClellan-Palomar north of San Diego, CA, Phoenix Mesa, AZ, Rocky Mountain Airport near Denver, CO, Concord near Charlotte, NC, Fort Worth?s Meacham Airport, TX, Baltimore-Washington, MD, Trenton, NJ, Stewart, NY (halfway between New York City and Albany), Republic Airport on Long Island, NY and Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland.
Ironically, Breeze has no plans to serve its home-base city of Salt Lake City. Some of the reporting on Breeze’s plans seem to be vague on whether the new airline will serve cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati or Gary, Indiana to tap into Chicagoland.
Neeleman filed two applications to the FAA — one in 2018 for an airline called Moxy which conflicted with a Marriott Hotel brand. That withdrawn application apparently didn’t have Cleveland on it. But the 2019 application for Breeze did have Cleveland on the map.
The airline’s goal is serve markets abandoned by the major airlines and many of the mid-size markets like Cleveland that were identified in Breeze’s application certainly fall into that category. The airline plans to start this with regional flights in the Northeast. No start-up date or routes have been announced.
?There?s just a lot of scraps that the big guys have left,? Neelman told?The Points Guy?on Breeze?s network plans. ?They?ve left a lot of city pairs, they?ve left a lot of other things untouched. I think we can fill that void nicely with the two aircraft types that we have coming.?
The aircraft types include a fleet of 28 120-seat Embraer 195s leased from Azul Brazilian Airlines, one of Neeleman?s five start-up airlines. The planes are due to arrive after April of this year. With $100 million in start-up capital, Breeze has ordered 60 Airbus A220-300s with up to 150 seats each; they are due to be delivered in April 2021.
What’s interesting about the fuel-efficient A220-300 is that they have the range to link East Coast airports with many Western European ones. From the Providence hub, everything along and west of a Copenhagen-Frankfurt-Geneva-Barcelona line is within range of this aircraft.
Interestingly, so are places like Lisbon, Portugal and Dublin, Ireland within range of Cleveland by the A220-300. There is some speculation that Breeze will link up with other airlines owned by Neeleman, including TAP Air Portugal whose hub is in Lisbon. However, unlike Dublin, there is no U.S. Customs pre-clearance at Lisbon.
Unfortunately, there is no formal Federal Inspection Services facility at Burke. Customs and Immigration clearance is conducted at Gate 4 of the terminal building but it requires a two-hour notice as no border patrol staff is assigned to Burke.
While it is unlikely there would be direct international service to Cleveland offered by Breeze, Neeleman is trying to fill in gaps in existing airline services. And direct flights between Cleveland and Europe is a known gap. One can hope.
But the possibility that Burke Lakefront Airport could again host a common carrier airline again is a potential boost to neighboring downtown Cleveland. It harkens back to the heady days of Wright Airlines, that was based at Burke from 1966-84.
At its peak, Wright served 17 destination airports, from the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic to the Northeast. That’s the same area that Breeze apparently wants to start with, too. Keep an eye on Breeze and Burke. They soon may give Cleveland business travelers and local tourism a lift.