Charles de Gaulle, Bob Hope and Indira Gandhi are to be joined by Cristiano Ronaldo, as Madeira Airport has a new name...
Cristiano Ronaldo already has his CR7 museum dedicated to him in his home town of Funchal, Madeira, and he's opened two hotels as well, one in Madeira CR7 Funchal and the other in CR7 Lisbon, and now his home island is renaming its international airport in his honour too - soon to be known as the Madeira Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.
A sign has been added to the airport frontage showing the face of Ronaldo, and it's though the official naming ceremony will take place ahead of Portugal's friendly game against Sweden on the 29th of March.
Most of us at a pub quiz might be able to conjure up half a dozen or so airports that are named after famous people, but in fact there are hundreds of them. Mexico has a thing about naming its airports after generals, Malaysia plumps for Sultans, but it's former statesmen and leaders that are the mainstay.
There's Charles de Gaulle in Paris, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and Indira Gandhi International in Delhi of course. But did you know that there is the Alexander the Great Airport in Skopje (Macedonia); the Franjo Tuđman Airport in Zagreb (Croatia); Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad (Pakistan); Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi (Kenya); Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport in Poland; and Rajiv Gandhi International Airport, Hyderabad (India). Yasser Arafat has an airport named after him, but it was abandoned after an Israeli attack knocked out the radar station and control tower during the Second Intifada.
Simon Bolivar even gets two airports to his name - the Simon Bolivar International Airport, Santa Marta (Columbia), and the Simon Bolivar International Airport, Bolívar International Airport, Maiquetia (Venezuela). And there is an airport named after a political couple would you believe - at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas. Incidentally there is one other shared name that I can think - at the Tenzing-Hillary Airport at Lukla, Nepal, which commemorates Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary, who together where the first climbers to reach the summit of Mt Everest, on the 29th of May 1953.
Naturally enough, aviators feature heavily too - with people like test pilot Chuck Yaeger commemorated at Yaeger Airport, Charleston, West Virginia (USA); pioneer aviator Traian Vuia Airport, at Timisoara (Romania); the Sikorsky Memorial Airport at Stratford, Connecticut (USA); and the Turkish female aviator at Sabiha Gökçen International Airport in Istanbul.
Travellers get a look in too, with the Ibn Battouta Airport, Tangier (Morocco); and Venice Marco Polo Airport, and mathematician and astronomer Copernicus is venerated at the Wrocław Nicolaus Copernicus Airport (Poland).
The writer roll call incudes the Ian Fleming International Airport, Boscobel (Jamaica), and the Václav Havel Airport Prague (Czech Republic); and the Lyon–Saint-Exupéry Airport, France (though he was a pioneer aviator too). There's an actor, at the Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City (USA); a Cosmonaut at the Yuri Gagarin Orenburg Tsentralny Airport, Orenburg (Russia), a breakfast cereal innovator at the W. K. Kellogg Airport, Battle Creek, Michigan (USA), and scientist and inventor Tesla is honoured at the Nikola Tesla Belgrade Airport in Serbia.
Less august figures get a look in too, with entertainers such as Burbank Bob Hope Airport (USA); musicians and composers such as the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport in Hungary; the W.A. Mozart Airport (Austria); Warsaw Chopin Airport (Poland); the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (USA); the Liverpool John Lennon Airport in the UK. Actor John Wayne gets a swaggering statue at the John Wayne Airport, Orange County (USA) and one director even makes the cut - at the Frederico Fellini Airport in Rimini (Italy).
Naming an airport after a footballer isn't new either - since 2006 Belfast's City Airport has been known as the George Best Belfast City Airport after local hero who is dubbed the greatest dribbler in history.
I suppose the names lend opportunities to honour someone important to the local culture, to put up a statue outside and sell some souvenirs, but if left to their own town name some unlucky airports just sound a bit silly in someone else's language. There's a Batman Airport in Turkey Batman Airport for example, a Mafia airport in Tanzania, a Moron airport in Mongolia, an Ogle airport in Guyana, and a Deadhorse Airport in Alaska (USA).
Most airports are just named after the city they serve, like Manchester, Miami, and Mangalore. Or they use a less defined geographical name like the UK's East Midlands Airport or Marseilles-Provence. East Midlands Airport sounds awfully dull no, but it does tell you at least something about where it might be, even if you know just a little of UK geography. In fact it's run jointly by the councils of Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester. I worked there for a time and the coaches that took disembarking passenger from the aircraft to the entrance to passport control and immigration were emblazoned with 'Serving Derby, Nottingham and Leicester'. This led to one family on my shift to climb the steps of the bus and ask for "two adults and two children to Leicester please", forgetting they had yet to leave the airport.
The hot topic while I was there in the mid 80's was how to find a better name for the airport. It was thought dreary and ill-defined, and research showed that few people in the UK knew quite where it was, and even fewer people abroad. So an expensive several-month-long study was commissioned in order to find a better, sexier, more memorable name. I seem to remember that the fee was £80,000. Excitement mounted until the report was published and recommended - wait for it - keeping the name as....'East Midlands Airport'.
At least East Midlands means something. Consider Heathrow and Gatwick; the largest international airport in the world and the busiest single runway airport in the world. You might think they would merit something special from the moniker drawer, but not at all. Supplanting small villages that were there before the runway was laid down, Heathrow just means a row or hedge on a heath - which in the UK means open land left wild rather than a formal park. And a 'wick' in old English is a pen for livestock, and 'gat' is a term for a goat, giving us 'goat pen'. They are as far away from naming after some famous figure as it is possible to get.
All airports have three letter IATA (International Air Transport Association) codes used to designate airports and apart from being somewhat confusing to the layman, these can can raise an smile too. Sure LHR, SIN and SYD are fine, but how about LOL (Derby Field airport in Nevada, USA), OMG (Omega Airport, Namibia), and SUX (Sioux City, Iowa, USA).
Incidentally if you want to know how your local airport got its name take a look at Airport Codes, which lists all of the IATA three letter codes and gives a brief explanation of where its full name came from.
In an age of irreverence for politicians, and indeed the elite in general, it's hard to imagine new airports being named after famous people. That said, with nationalism on the rise it isn't entirely beyond the imagination to envisage populist people rallying for a change. Heathrow to become the Sir Winston Churchill International perhaps?
For more information on Madeira see Visit Madeira