‘Team Derry’ needs to get behind airport plans - says Elisha McCallion

The Rocky Statue in Philadelphia
The Rocky Statue in Philadelphia

In this article Sinn Fein councillor Elisha McCallion explains why Sinn Fein will continue to press ahead in their campaign have Derry’s airport renamed after Amelia Earhart

Next month marks the 80th Anniversary of Amelia Earhart becoming the first women to fly solo across the Atlantic. The story of her epic journey is known throughout the world and we in Sinn Féin are encouraged that so many people share our belief that there is a case to be made for recognising the significant visitor potential of the Earhart connection to our City and District. Sinn Féin placed a motion before Derry City Council to rename the local airport ‘Amelia Earhart City of Derry Airport’ with the expectation that it would be noncontentious and that other parties on Council would also recognise its potential.

Colr Elisha McCallion

Colr Elisha McCallion

The rationale behind the proposal was to maximise the tourism potential by adding an additional dimension to the marketing of the Region while the focus of tour operators is on Derry in the run-in to City of Culture 2013. Promoting stronger links with the USA and building on them, be they tourist , educational or business in preparation of City of Culture can only be beneficial.

So there was understandably great surprise not only in Derry but throughout Ireland and beyond when it emerged that the SDLP joined with the Unionists to block the Sinn Féin motion. Their reasons for opposing the motion were quickly dismissed by a long of list of respected and independent travel writers, tourism experts, historians and companies who have been involved in successfully renaming and rebranding of airports.

Ironically whilst all this was going on in Derry, on the other side of the Atlantic the world’s media was following a new story about the fate of Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan while travelling from Lae in New Guinea to Howland Island during her bid to become the first woman to fly around the world on 2nd July 1937 - one of the most enduring mysteries of modern times.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her government’s support for a new $500,000 hunt to find Amelia Earhart’s plane off the remote Pacific Island of Nikumaroro. Hillary Clinton is set to meet with leading historians and scientists from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (IGHAR) as they prepare plans for a trip to the suspected crash site in July.

SDLP Councillor Brenda Stevenson’s claims that the Earhart links to Derry are “tenuous” have left many people scratching their heads in disbelief.

Such ‘tenuous’ links have been used to spectacular effect by forward thinking city councillors in other cities in the past. The famous 1976 triple-Oscar-winning film Rocky will always be remembered for the scene of Sylvester Stallone running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia. Thirty years later a bronze statue was unveiled close to the Museum in honour of the film. At the ceremony, Mayor John Street said that the steps were one of Philly’s biggest tourist attractions and Stallone, a native New Yorker, was gladly adopted by Philadelphia .“Tenuous” links if marketed properly can generate tremendous returns.

A replica of the Lockheed Vega 5B plane which Amelia flew now sits proudly in The Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington which maintains the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft in the world. Amelia is originally from Kansas but the Smithsonian recognised the marketability of the less than ‘tenuous’ links of someone from Kansas with Washington and included her in its museum.

There are often complaints that Belfast gets everything and Derry gets nothing. I wonder why? Could it be the small mindedness and lack of imagination by the SDLP who have dominated Derry City Council for forty years that is responsible for the lack of achievement and development of the magnificent attributes that we possess in this great city? If those parties who blocked this motion want to know how Belfast is so successful, maybe they should learn from their party colleagues in Belfast City Council who are working together with Sinn Féin for what is best for Belfast on a daily basis. The most recent example was the £150 Million economic regeneration programme for 2012-15 which will bring thousands of visitors and jobs to Belfast.

The Titanic project is the result of ‘Team Belfast’ working together for Belfast.

Tens of millions of pounds will be injected into the economy there, jobs are being created and thousands of tourists will visit the city. Just this week two major TV series have started on the Titanic story and next month thousands will attend a free MTV music concert. ‘Team Belfast’ with a lot of imagination took the story of the biggest shipping disaster in a hundred years and turned it into one of the most successful marketing projects imaginable.

May 21st this year has been designated by Derry City Council as Amelia Earhart Day, and Greater Shantallow Community Arts (GCAS) will be running a three-day festival from May 19 to 21 to mark the 80th anniversary.

There will be the launch of an Earhart graphic novel and the inaugural Earhart Lecture at the Great Hall, Magee and there will also be an event in the city centre involving hundreds of school children receiving Earhart Medals of Merit in recognition of their academic achievement or community service.

This is something the city needs to see happening as often as possible. Every town and city the length and breadth of Ireland is in competition when it comes to the tourist market. As a city we need to be constantly updating, refreshing and grasping every opportunity with merit that presents itself to increase our tourist product .

We can’t afford to sit still and be left behind.

That is why it is important that we grasp the opportunity to add this new marketing dimension to our Airport. Rename our local airport the Amelia Earhart City of Derry Airport. Sinn Féin will press ahead to ensure that it becomes a reality.