Ali International? Online campaign seeks to rename Louisville's airport

Ali International? Online campaign seeks to rename Louisville's airport
The former heavyweight boxing champ died June 3, 2016 at a Phoenix-area hospital. (Source: WAVE 3 news file)
The former heavyweight boxing champ died June 3, 2016 at a Phoenix-area hospital. (Source: WAVE 3 news file)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - There is a push to rename Louisville's airport after one it its most famous native sons, Muhammad Ali, the three-time heavyweight champion boxer and humanitarian.

A petition on change.org is calling for Louisville International Airport to change its name to Muhammad Ali International, with the three letter airport code ALI.

The petition was created by Global Friends of Ali on June 12 and asks for 1,500 signatures. As of Friday morning, the petition had more than 1,200 signatures from around the world. The goal is to eventually reach 5,000.

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Robert Holmes III of Louisville started the petition after Muhammad Ali made a lasting impression on him as child when he visited his west end neighborhood. Holmes felt the name change would honor Ali.

"You think about an airport and Muhammad Ali was a connector of people," Holmes said. "What do airports do? They connect people."

The petition was sent to Kentucky State House, Kentucky State Senate, Governor Matt Bevin, U.S. Representative John Yarmuth, Senator Mitch McConnell, Louisville Airport Authority and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

The idea of changing the airport name to Muhammad Ali International comes with mixed reviews.

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"I think it would be a great way to honor Muhammad Ali," said Bryan Henson, who was departing from the airport.

"I wouldn't mind that," said Tim Arbagy, who was visiting Louisville from Florida.

Some people are against the idea of the name change and sounded off on social media.

Michael Schotter wrote on Facebook, "No, Muhammad was a great man and all but that should be left alone."

Charles "Skip" Miller is the Executive Director of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority. Miller said they had a board meeting on Wednesday and the topic didn't come up and adds that a name change decision rests with the board. He added that changing an airport name is not that uncommon.

"The name changed back in the 1990s from Standiford Field to Louisville International Airport," Miller said.

The airport's three letter code is still SDF, those letters referring to when the airport was named Standiford Field. Changing those letters is highly unlikely due to safety concerns.

"It is a Herculean task to change the three letter identifier," Miller said.

In a statement, the FAA said airport name changes are not uncommon and are up to the airport operator. While the FAA doesn't approve airport names they do ask airports to notify the agency of changes well before they become effective.

The FAA went on to say "location identifiers are considered permanent and will not be changed without strong and documented justification, primarily concerning air safety. Location identifiers are not interchangeable, and cannot be transferred from one location to another or from one airport to another even within the same community. The original identifier will remain in effect even if it is necessary to change the airport's name."

The FAA says the ALI location identifier is already taken by the Alice International Airport in Alice, Texas.

Click here for a link to the petition.

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