Des Moines airport may get new name

Passengers flying into Des Moines might someday arrive at the Luther Smith International Airport or the Arthur Thomas International Airport.

Either one could be the new name of the Des Moines International Airport, and both will be considered at an airport board hearing on Aug. 4.

The airport board will decide whether to forward a recommendation for a name change to the Des Moines City Council, which has the ultimate say in changing the airport's name, said Airport Director Craig Smith. The two names were suggested to the council.

Arthur Thomas, who died in 1980, was Des Moines' longtime and much-heralded airport manager and the man in the pilot seat as the present airport was being built.

Luther Smith, 88, was one of 12 Iowa members of the all-black Tuskegee Airmen. He flew more than 100 missions with the group.

Craig Smith said this is the first time in his 12 years as director that a new name — let alone two — has been proposed.

The possibility of renaming the airport is still in its infant stages, however, and airport officials are still determining the pros and cons that would come with a new name, Smith said. Officials will present their findings at the Aug. 4 meeting.

Replacing the name could be a costly process, he said. Documents, including federal aviation publication papers used by air traffic control and pilots across the country, would need to be changed.

Smith said he is unsure whether the airport staff will make a recommendation about a new name.

Airport board members have not yet received the staff report on the costs and benefits of a new name, said board member Nolden Gentry. He said he wasn't ready to make a decision.

John Jones of Des Moines, who submitted Thomas' name, stressed Thomas' role in making the airport what it is today.

Ken Hebron, who submitted Luther Smith's name, stressed Smith's heroism.

"Luther has done as much or more than anybody I've ever heard of for our country," said Hebron, who was a lieutenant with the U.S. Navy before coming to Indianola as an optometrist. "I can't imagine any human being going through what he did for the United States."

Jones said he has heard about Luther Smith's contributions, but feels the distinction should go to someone directly involved in the airport.

"I think if you are going to rename an institution or an airport you should rename it after somebody who made a huge contribution," Jones said.

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