Akron-Canton Airports Marks 75th Anniversary

Akron-Canton Airport recently celebrated its 75th anniversary by giving away prizes and showing historic photographs during a celebration at the airport located between its namesake cities in Green Township.

The airport was dedicated over two days on Oct. 12-13, 1946, with 35,000 turning out to see aircraft displays and demonstration flights by civilian and military aircraft.

When it opened in far southern Summit County, the new airport had 1,180 acres on a plateau favored by the Civil Aeronautics Administration because it offered unobstructed views for pilots.

However, commercial airline operations at the airport didn’t begin for nearly two more years.

The first airline passenger at CAK was Akron resident T.H. Carroll, who boarded a United Airlines DC-3 bound for Chicago.

However, the first commercial operation was a United cargo plane that had departed more than five hours earlier, also flying to Chicago.

You may have noticed the three letter code used to designate the airport on checked luggage tags is CAK rather than AKC or ACA.

That’s because the name originally chosen for the airport was Canton-Akron Memorial Airport.

But that triggered howls of protest from Akron, which initially had fought the creation of the airport in the first place.

The order of the cities in the airport name was reversed but by then the airport identifier code had already been created by the federal government.

At one point, officials proposed naming it Akron-Canton-Massillon Airport. That brought outrage from folks in Alliance who wanted their city to be part of the name.

But putting too many cities into the airport name would be cumbersome.

For a time, the airport used the slogan, “Serving Akron, Canton, Massillon, Alliance, Barberton and Cuyahoga Falls.”

The name was not the only source of controversy. Akron didn’t want to lose airline service at Akron Municipal Airport for a new facility 16 miles from downtown.

Yet the four airlines serving Akron, United, American, Eastern and Capitol, had other ideas.

They announced in February 1948 plans to transfer their flights to CAK, citing safety reasons, including a longer runway and an instrument landing system.

The airlines said the larger four-engine planes they planned to fly could operate more safely at CAK than Akron Municipal, which was surrounded by hilly terrain and hemmed in by such facilities as the Akron Airdock, Rubber Bowl, Derby Downs and Guggenheim Institute.

The airlines also claimed that larger aircraft would enable them to skip intermediate stops en route to Chicago and New York in favor of non-stop service.

Akron Airport manager B.E. Fulton – whose name would later grace the airport – sought to persuade federal officials to disallow the transfer of commercial flights.

But the CAA rejected Akron’s pleas and the airlines made the move later that year.

Getting to CAK in its early years wasn’t easy. Interstate 77 was years away from being built. Akron residents were instructed to drive south on Canton Road and turn right in Greentown.

Over the decades the airport runways have been expanded, the terminal expanded, and the airport’s footprint has grown to 2,700 acres.

The longest runway is 8,204 feet while the next longest is 7,601 feet, both of which can handle most commercial aircraft.

The airport originally had three runways each of which was 5,600 feet in length. One of the original runways has since been converted to a taxiway.

The airline terminal was built in 1955 with construction of an eight-story terminal expansion began in 1959. It began operating on a limited basis on Oct. 31, 1961. The terminal’s grand opening was held in June 1962, the same year that I-77 opened between Akron and Canton.

The terminal has been expanded a few times since then.

New gates opened in 2006. Two years later the airport began a 10-year expansion that included expansion of the TSA screening area, additional parking and expanded entrance roads, and improvements in the ticket wing. This work wrapped up in 2020.

The jet age came to Akron-Canton in the mid 1960s when United Airlines began flying Boeing 727 aircraft to Chicago O’Hare and Newark airports.

Since 2000, airline service has been boom or bust. In the mid 2000s Akron-Canton was one of the fastest growing Midwest airports, fueled by the growth of service by low fare carrier Value Jet.

It later became AirTran with flights to Atlanta, Florida, Milwaukee and the East Coast. In 2012 CAK served 1.83 million passengers, the high water mark of airline service.

AirTran was acquired by Southwest Airlines in 2011 and although Southwest maintained for a time most of the flights and destinations of AirTran, it began cutting back flights at CAK until pulling out altogether in 2017.

Other low fare carriers, including Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air, have come and gone in the past decade, favoring growing business at Cleveland Hopkins Airport.

The loss of these carriers sent airline traffic below the 1 million mark in 2018.

CAK took another hit during the COVID-19 pandemic from which it has yet to fully recover.

Airline passenger traffic at CAK has yet to reach 2019 levels of 813,976. In 2020, CAK handled 291,657.

Some routes flown from Akron-Canton on the eve of the pandemic have yet to be restarted.

This includes service by American Eagle to New York (LaGuardia), service to Houston by United Express and service by Delta Air Lines to Atlanta.

However, the airport did land a new carrier this past summer when startup low fare carrier Breeze Airways began flying to New Orleans; Charleston, South Carolina; and Tampa, Florida.

Currently American Eagle flies to Washington (Reagan National) and Charlotte; United Express flies to Washington (Dulles) and Chicago (O’Hare) and Spirit Airlines offers service to the Florida cities of Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers; and to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Spirit and Breeze do not fly every day and most of Spirit’s service is seasonal.

American Eagle plans to resume flying from Akron-Canton to Philadelphia in November while the service to Houston will return in April 2022, airport officials said.

The latter is being funded in part by a $850,000 federal Small Community Air Service Development grant.

Airport officials said the pandemic also changed the nature of the passenger business at CAK. Before the pandemic, 60 percent of travelers were flying for business. Now business travel makes up less than 10 percent of the airport’s passenger traffic.

The airport also is home to industrial parks, a museum, dozens of businesses and even a candy factory.

Such companies as Timken, FirstEnergy, J.M. Smucker, and Goodyear Tire and Rubber base company aircraft based at the airport.

Fixed base operators Avflight and McKinley Air serve general aviation while Castle Aviation provides freight and charter service.

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