What must a city’s airport be named after: geography, history, or national heroes? This question has all of a sudden gained relevance in Pakistan, as Islamabad’s new airport, almost ready to be inaugurated, struggles for a name.
Many people expected that its current name — Benazir Bhutto International Airport — would not be changed once the new one is opened to travellers. But, in a surprise move, Sardar Mahtab Khan, Adviser to Prime Minister on Aviation, announced that the official name of the airport would be changed to Islamabad International Airport (IIAP), and insisted that it should not be named after a personality belonging to any one particular political party.
Former Senate Chairman, Raza Rabbani, has expressed serious reservations, and written a letter to the prime minister, asking him not to change the name of Benazir Bhutto International Airport — because Benazir was not only a political leader and a former prime minister but also a globally renowned figure, a torchbearer of democracy, and a symbol of resistance against dictatorship.
Initially, it was accepted that since the airport is located in the Attock district, the heart of Gandhara civilisation, therefore it be named the Gandhara International Airport. Other names suggested were Abdus Sattar Edhi Airport, Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan Airport, Liaquat Ali Khan Airport.
Interestingly, this issue was the subject of a prank played by a national newspaper on April 1 (April Fools’ Day) this year. It carried a news report that the new airport would be named after the Chinese premier Xi Jinping to honour Pak-China friendship. Strong reactions poured in from everywhere against this news, as people didn’t expect the government to go to this extent — and hardly read it to the end, where a disclaimer was placed.
The name, he said, should be such that all Pakistanis can relate to it.
It takes a lot of resources, energies, and thought to design airports, as they represent identity of their respective cities. They become symbols of national pride, and a gateway to the world and the first point of contact to the city.
The newly-built airport in Islamkot, Tharparkar, and Thar on the contrary is named after Mai Bakhtawar, a peasant leader who lost her life on June 22, 1947, while fighting against a feudal lord near Jhudo town of Mirpurkhas district.
Mian Iftikhar, a frequent traveller and businessman, says he does not associate airports with names but cities where they are located. “Full names are used in onboard announcements by flight crews or welcome announcements at terminals and lounges.” But he has to be careful to remember names when there is more than one airport in a city. For example, New York has two airports, LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport, named after a former New York mayor and late US president respectively.
Similarly, airports in Washington DC are named Dulles Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington Airport. When the name of Ronald Reagan was added to the Washington Airport, there was talk that the name already carried the name of a former US President George Washington. But the change was not reversed.
Arshad Bajwa, a business graduate with interest in branding, says highly paid consultants and companies are hired to brand airports. In Pakistan, he adds, airports barring a few have been named after their geographical locations. “Sometimes there is an option to name a terminal after a personality if not the airport. For example, there is Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum Terminal at the Bahawalpur airport built with the support of United Arab Emirates.”
Bajwa says it is not easy to decide a name for an airport after a personality unless he/she is a national hero, such as Allama Iqbal and Quaid-e-Azam.
He says the case of India is no different as “they are still undecided on whether to name Chandigarh airport after Bhagat Singh of Punjab or Mangal Sein of Haryana.”
He cites the example of Singapore where thousands of people have recently signed an online petition that suggests renaming of Changi Airport after the late Lee Kuan Yew, their charismatic founder and prime minister. The petition has been submitted for review.