Built in 1947, Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport was the first downtown airport as well as the first municipally owned-and-operated airport in the United States. Named for Thomas A. Burke, the mayor of Cleveland during the airport’s development, it was originally designed to serve as a supplemental airfield to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Over time, Burke evolved into an essential part of local and regional transportation systems—attracting business to the region and hosting the Cleveland Air Show, which draws thousands of spectators annually.
City Manager William R. Hopkins first announced the idea of an airport as part of a larger vision for Cleveland’s lakefront in 1927, and in 1946, Mayor Burke made the creation of “landing places for land and amphibious planes” part of the city’s “Official Lakefront Development Plan.”
When Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport opened in 1947, it featured a modest 2,000-foot dirt runway and a small operations facility and hanger. A federal grant in 1950 from the Federal Airport Act allowed for greater expansion, resulting in the installation of a 5,200-foot hard-surface runway in 1957.
Between 1957 and 1968, a terminal, control tower and concourses were constructed. In the 1970s, the airport expanded with new buildings, a new control tower, an additional runway and Aviation High School. The main terminal of the airport was renovated in 1993 to handle airline and air charter service. In 1998, the larger runway was rehabilitated and an instrument landing system was installed, allowing planes to land in poor weather. And in 2007, Parallel Taxiway G was overlayed, while a portion of the General Aviation ramp was overlayed in 2008.
At the 1997 Cleveland Air Show, in honor of Burke’s 50th anniversary, a Navy Blue Angel and Army Thunderbird were dedicated at Aviation Heritage Plaza. Plaques representing the many contributions that Cleveland and Clevelanders have made in aviation history also encircle the plaza.
While Burke isn’t presently served by commercial or regional airlines, it has been in the past—including carriers such as Comair, Northwest Airlink (Fisher Brothers Aviation), and Midway Airlines. It was also home to Wright Airlines (later Aeromech Airlines), established in 1966 to provide service between Cleveland and Detroit.