LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Attention, passengers: The Louisville International Airport will soon be called Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport.
Louisville Regional Airport Authority officials on Wednesday approved the name change to honor the boxing icon, humanitarian and Louisville native. It likely won’t take effect until June.
Mayor Greg Fischer was among local luminaries at the meeting, where some praised Ali’s contributions to both his sport and his hometown. Others speculated the name change will bring a significant impact to the community.
Fischer said it’s not just about the airport, it’s about a larger community effort to celebrate Ali’s ties to Louisville.
The board had been researching a potential name change for about a year, WAVE 3 News' Taylor Durden reported. It found that Ali was liked all over the world.
“Research shows us that Muhammad Ali has enormous positive name recognition, far more than our city," Fischer said. "So even as we honor and celebrate him, we will also positively boost our city’s Louisville identity.”
Louisville Regional Airport Authority Executive Director Dan Mann pledged $100,000 from his office to cover the branding of the name change.
The locator key will remain SDF, however.
Ali died in 2016 following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
After Ali’s death, Louisville native Robert Holmes III created a petition to change the airport’s name to honor Ali. The petition on change.org received more than 2,800 signatures. Holmes said mpowerchange.org, a Muslim grassroots movement, contacted him about creating a petition on their website. More than 11,000 people signed that petition. In total, Holmes received more than 14,000 signatures.
Holmes said he took it to the board and the mayor in 2016, but nothing came of it until now.
“It’s a big day for our city,” Holmes said upon hearing the news of the name change. “For me, it’s bigger than the name change -- it’s a spiritual journey for me as well.”
Holmes said he remembers meeting Ali while growing up in west Louisville. He was 12 or 13 years old when he met Ali, and said meeting him made a huge impact on his life.
“He took his time to make eye contact with every kid and every young person in that crowd,” Holmes recalled. “And I was one of those kids in that crowd.”
The airport is the seventh busiest in the world, in terms of cargo handled, thanks to it serving as a major hub for United Parcel Service. For passengers, it offers nonstop service to 33 destinations. Just last week, Southwest Airlines announced daily nonstop service from Louisville to Dallas Love Field (DAL).
In a press release from the city of Louisville, Muhammad Ali’s widow, Lonnie Ali said:
“I am proud that the Louisville Regional Airport Authority and the City of Louisville are supportive of changing the name of the Louisville International Airport to reflect Muhammad’s impact on the city and his love for his hometown. I am happy that visitors from far and wide who travel to Louisville will have another touch point to Muhammad and be reminded of his open and inclusive nature, which is reflective of our city. Muhammad was a global citizen, but he never forgot the city that gave him his start. It is a fitting testament to his legacy.”
Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Louisville) also supported the change. He sent a statement saying:
"There are a lot of worthy people who could represent our city, but I am thrilled that the Airport Authority chose the greatest. Renaming our airport for Ali isn’t only fitting because he seemed to fly when he was in the ring, but because even as he became perhaps the quintessential citizen of the world, Muhammad Ali remained a proud Louisvillian. For millions of people around the globe, our airport is their first impression of Louisville, and I can think of no better way to introduce travelers to our community than Muhammad Ali and the values he embodied and fought for his entire life.”