The recent announcement by the former Piedmont Triad Airport Authority that it was changing the airport’s name from Piedmont Triad International Airport to Central North Carolina International Airport didn’t exactly get the reaction airport officials were hoping for. Instead of a widespread celebratory response that airport officials apparently anticipated, the name change is getting a big thumbs down from almost everyone.
Right after the announcement of the change at the Tuesday, Dec. 19 meeting of the Airport Authority, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets lit up with criticism, and even many area elected officials had a negative reaction – a lot of whom didn’t appreciate the fact that the name change was sprung on them with no warning or any chance for them to provide input. It was clear very soon after the announcement that leaders and other area residents have very strong feelings – and a lot to say – about the name of the airport that serves their community.
Soon after the change created a social media storm, more criticism was leveled in newspaper editorials, letters to the editor and in private conversations between some elected leaders.
One Greensboro businessman has started an online petition at change.org that’s gotten over 3,000 signatures.
The News & Record ran an editorial opposing the change and the new airport name was the topic of conversations at many family dinner tables over the holiday break. In a letter to the News & Record, one reader wrote that no matter what it’s labeled people always have and always will call it “Greensboro Airport” since GSO is the official International Air Transport Association airport code and is on everything from the baggage tags to the tickets.
Some say the new name is too boring while others argue that changing the name was unnecessary in the first place. One critic said the new name sounds like the name of a junior college while one area elected official who asked not to be identified told the Rhino Times that the name was “something I could have come up with with my friends while sitting around drinking in my college dorm room.”
After the name change was announced, well-known radio and online broadcast personality Brad Krantz posted on his Facebook page that the new name sounds like “a lame, politically correct, nebulous result of 1000 monkeys (or consultants) randomly typing for 10 years to come up with something that would confuse anyone not explicitly familiar with Greensboro’s airport.”
The Airport Authority is an independent organization established in 1942 to run the airport, and that authority essentially answers to no one. The board has seven members, with three appointed by Guilford County, one by Forsyth County – and the cities of Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem each get one appointment as well.
The Airport Authority members behind the name change said the name was arrived at after an involved half-year discussion of the airport board with economic development officials and other community leaders. They say the board explored different options and they argue that this is the perfect name when it comes to marketing this area to the outside world and bringing business to Guilford County and the surrounding areas.
Regardless of the objections, the airport’s name is now Central North Carolina International. At the Dec. 19 meeting, the Airport Authority voted to make the change – with the new name going into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. At that meeting, Piedmont Triad Airport Authority Board Chairman Steve Showfety, the president of Koury Corporation, explained that the new name would allow Guilford and Forsyth counties, and the cities in those counties, to emphasize the area’s prime central location in the State of North Carolina, and between Washington and Atlanta – as well as its central location on the Eastern Seaboard between New York and Miami.
Showfety said that no longer would area economic development officials have to explain where the “Piedmont Triad” airport is because the new airport name was self-defining.
The name change certainly has its fans on the Airport Authority board. At that meeting, when the name was changed, Airport Authority Member Jim White said of the move, “This is one of the most exciting and worthwhile endeavors that this board has ever undertaken.”
But the reaction of others – including some elected officials – was a lot less enthusiastic to say the least. Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad said he has the utmost respect for the Airport Authority members and its staff, but he added that the change was a mistake in terms of both process and content. Piedmont Triad International Airport Executive Director Kevin Baker didn’t have a vote in the decision but he was in on the discussions and he oversees the operations at the airport.
“I think Kevin Baker is smart and is an excellent director, and we are lucky to have him, and there are no ‘buts’ about that,” Conrad said. “But do I like the name? No, and I think most people don’t. You’re always going to have some people who complain about something, but it’s rare that people are so universally opposed to something.”
Conrad said he was unaware the subject was being discussed during the months that Airport Authority members were apparently talking about it in private. He pointed out that the airport is in the district he represents.
He said he’d heard some crazy reasons being thrown around to justify the change, including an argument that “Triad” is the name of a Chinese crime syndicate and therefore the name might have negative associations for those in that part of the world.
“I’ve done business in Asia and I’ve never been accused of being a member of the organized crime,” said Conrad, who runs a seafood supply company.
Conrad said he’d seen public statements that some elected officials were consulted beforehand about the change, but he added that he wasn’t one of them.
“I found out by reading it on Facebook,” Conrad said of the airport name change. “I think the process should have been discussed publically. These are smart people but I don’t think that announcement was thought out.”
Conrad said that, if they want the name to actually reflect its location, they should name it “Greensboro International Airport.”
“But I know that’s not going to happen,” he added.
Conrad said the county commissioners have learned in recent months just how strong the tensions can be between the area’s local governments. It is safe to say that both High Point and Winston-Salem would have a meltdown if advocates tried to name the airport after Greensboro. (It’s also probably relevant that the resolution on the current name change was read at the Dec. 19 meeting by Airport Authority Member Allen Joines, the mayor of Winston-Salem.)
Krantz wrote in his Facebook post, “Can we once and for all admit that the only reason our airport (GSO) is not simply called ‘Greensboro’ has been so that Winston-Salem and High Point were not offended for being left out of the name?”
Guilford County Commissioner Jeff, Phillips said he was told “a week or two” before the announcement about a potential name change. He said he got a call from Showfety who informed him that the board was considering a change. New Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson was later informed that it would be a good idea for him to be at the meeting.
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, a former member of the Airport Authority who was also at the Dec. 19 Airport Authority meeting, tweeted later that she liked the name, but she added quickly that neither she nor the City of Greensboro were in any way responsible for the new name.
“I like the new name of @flyfrompti, because I think it’s more descriptive, but I know many people do not,” she tweeted. “This is simply my opinion. The airport is a separate entity. @greensborocity doesn’t run the airport. We don’t get to choose the name.”
Guilford County Commissioner Carolyn Coleman is no fan of the airport’s new name.
“Well, I don’t like the name,” Coleman said, adding, “If you don’t know where something is, you still don’t know. If I see an airport is ‘Central Michigan,’ I still don’t know what’s in central Michigan.”
High Point Economic Development Corp. President Loren Hill does like the name. He said he thinks the new airport name will help define the area and be an aid in marketing it around the country and the world.
“The name ‘North Carolina’ is a powerful brand and having that in the name immediately helps,” Hill said.
Hill added that he’d seen some complaints on social media about the word “Central” since Guilford County isn’t exactly in the center of North Carolina, but he said he doesn’t think those complaints hold water.
“The word ‘central’ is not exact,” Hill said. “They go into some crazy calculation, but central does not mean center point.”
When Hill was asked if this renaming was part of a larger branding effort to move away from the Piedmont Triad moniker in other ways as well, he said, “It could be. Will the Piedmont Triad Partnership change its name? That might make sense.”
North Carolina Rep. Jon Hardister wasn’t consulted about the new name but he certainly has his ideas about it.
“No one has called and asked my opinion,” Hardister said. “I told the chairman that changing the airport name may be a good idea, but I’m not sold on the name.”
Hardister said he wants the airport named after the late Howard Coble, a much beloved congressman.
“He served 30 years in Congress; he was a great representative,” he said.
Hardister said he has great respect for the Airport Authority members and he believes they are doing an excellent job, but he said that, if the airport is going to change the name, it should change it to honor Coble. He said that would be a “fantastic” name and he added that Coble had an excellent reputation on both sides of the aisle, was a lifelong resident of Guilford County who served in the US Coast Guard, and as a congressman, was a strong supporter of the airport. Hardister pointed out that Coble even had his own parking space at the airport.
Hardister said there are many international airports named after individuals and added that those names have, over time, come to denote a certain place.
“The name would certainly become synonymous with the area,” he said. “Everyone knows LaGuardia is in New York. Or look at JFK – everyone knows where that is.”
Hardister posted his proposal on Facebook where he wrote, “Also, the Howard Coble name is catchy, easy to say and relatively short. This would make it easy to fit on signs, advertisements and documents.”
The Airport Authority – now the Central North Carolina Airport Authority – is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, Jan. 23, where the members will no doubt hear some feedback from the public now that everyone is aware of the change. The board does allow time at the start of each meeting for speakers from the floor but usually there are no speakers. The Jan. 23 meeting is likely to see plenty of them since the criticism of the new name is so prevalent.
The petition at change.org states that, in the wake of the announcement, there was “a major outpouring on social media that there is nothing wrong with the current name and that the new name was made with haste and not considering the thoughts of the community.”
Other arguments made at change.org are that “Central North Carolina” doesn’t represent this area, and the current name – Piedmont Triad International – isn’t “broken,” so it makes no sense to change it. The petition pointed out that, under the Piedmont Triad name, passenger traffic has grown and major aviation companies such as Honda Aircraft and HAECO Americas have thriving operations at the airport.