Key exec behind Indy airport expansion retires

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

When most teenagers learned to drive a car, Robert A. Duncan got his pilot's license at age 16.

Fifty years later, Duncan nudged the door closed this week on his office at the Indianapolis Airport Authority and retired after a career at the center of one of the largest, long-term civic developments in the city's history.

Insiders said he has been the calming influence as the airport worked to expand and gobble up land and homes to grow from a 1,000-acre airfield to a 10,000-acre cargo hub and gleaming terminal that serves 8 million passengers a year.

A pilot and attorney, the 66-year-old Duncan is known for his wry wit and as a computer geek who can eagerly study the vital specs of a Boeing 777.

He's also been the airport's general counsel and occupied many other executive chairs during an era when commercial passenger and cargo service became jet-propelled. The humble Indianapolis Municipal Airport grew out of its barnstorming days and into an economic powerhouse with the space to add a third runway in the next century.

His career spans nearly half of the 80-year history of the airport. And he drafted more than 30 bills introduced in the General Assembly to promote all airports in Indiana.

"I've been lucky to have the opportunity to combine my profession as a lawyer with my avocation for flying," he said.

Duncan is among the last of a small core of people who conceived of an Indianapolis International Airport with runways two miles long and a showpiece terminal in the middle of the field serving millions of passengers a year. What they drew up 35 years ago is reality today.

Airport insiders said Duncan's job was often behind the scenes. As the airport's attorney, Duncan negotiated leases and deals that expanded the facility. He directed the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars — much of it federal grants — to clear the way for the airport to build new hangars and runways, create about 10,000 jobs and help thousands of neighbors move away from noisy airplanes during the airport's contentious growth period in the 1980s and '90s.

Land for the Hendricks County Airport and Indianapolis Regional Airport, formerly the Mount Comfort airport, was acquired on his watch.

In the mid-1970s, the airport's core leadership included airport Executive Director Dan Orcutt, Treasurer Alan Boone, head of operations Bob Spitler, planner Elaine Roberts and Duncan.

"It was a team, but (Duncan) has been the flexible utility fielder," Orcutt said. "In the 1970s, when we had the master plan for the expansion, it was Bob's work in acquisition of the land that allowed everything to happen.

"It was his quiet nature and his ability to get along with the property owners that allowed growth to occur. It is an airport that many communities would kill to have."

Duncan said his deals to buy 1,400-plus properties in areas most affected by noise were made easy.

"We just put out the word in an area that the airport was willing to buy when they were willing to sell. There are only (a handful) left, and I'm proud to say we were able to reach agreement with nearly all the sellers without lawsuits."

During the 1980s, west side school auditoriums were packed with angry airport neighbors upset by low-flying planes over their homes. Orcutt credited Duncan with "listening to the people, seeing all aspects and becoming the calming factor."

It's an accomplishment Duncan is proud of.

"The unique thing about this place is that when I get old and gray and I'm gumming my food, I can turn to my grandchildren and say, 'Hey, I had something to do with that.' "


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Apologies for the wall of text. I promise I had this nicely formatted in paragraphs in Notepad before pasting here.

  2. I believe that is incorrect Sir, the people's tax-dollars are NOT paying for the companies investment. Without the tax-break the company would be paying an ADDITIONAL $11.1 million in taxes ON TOP of their $22.5 Million investment (Building + IT), for a total of $33.6M or a 50% tax rate. Also, the article does not specify what the total taxes were BEFORE the break. Usually such a corporate tax-break is a 'discount' not a 100% wavier of tax obligations. For sake of example lets say the original taxes added up to $30M over 10 years. $12.5M, New Building $10.0M, IT infrastructure $30.0M, Total Taxes (Example Number) == $52.5M ININ's Cost - $1.8M /10 years, Tax Break (Building) - $0.75M /10 years, Tax Break (IT Infrastructure) - $8.6M /2 years, Tax Breaks (against Hiring Commitment: 430 new jobs /2 years) == 11.5M Possible tax breaks. ININ TOTAL COST: $41M Even if you assume a 100% break, change the '30.0M' to '11.5M' and you can see the Company will be paying a minimum of $22.5, out-of-pocket for their capital-investment - NOT the tax-payers. Also note, much of this money is being spent locally in Indiana and it is creating 430 jobs in your city. I admit I'm a little unclear which tax-breaks are allocated to exactly which expenses. Clearly this is all oversimplified but I think we have both made our points! :) Sorry for the long post.

  3. Clearly, there is a lack of a basic understanding of economics. It is not up to the company to decide what to pay its workers. If companies were able to decide how much to pay their workers then why wouldn't they pay everyone minimum wage? Why choose to pay $10 or $14 when they could pay $7? The answer is that companies DO NOT decide how much to pay workers. It is the market that dictates what a worker is worth and how much they should get paid. If Lowe's chooses to pay a call center worker $7 an hour it will not be able to hire anyone for the job, because all those people will work for someone else paying the market rate of $10-$14 an hour. This forces Lowes to pay its workers that much. Not because it wants to pay them that much out of the goodness of their heart, but because it has to pay them that much in order to stay competitive and attract good workers.

  4. GOOD DAY to you I am Mr Howell Henry, a Reputable, Legitimate & an accredited money Lender. I loan money out to individuals in need of financial assistance. Do you have a bad credit or are you in need of money to pay bills? i want to use this medium to inform you that i render reliable beneficiary assistance as I'll be glad to offer you a loan at 2% interest rate to reliable individuals. Services Rendered include: *Refinance *Home Improvement *Inventor Loans *Auto Loans *Debt Consolidation *Horse Loans *Line of Credit *Second Mortgage *Business Loans *Personal Loans *International Loans. Please write back if interested. Upon Response, you'll be mailed a Loan application form to fill. (No social security and no credit check, 100% Guaranteed!) I Look forward permitting me to be of service to you. You can contact me via e-mail howellhenryloanfirm@gmail.com Yours Sincerely MR Howell Henry(MD)

  5. It is sad to see these races not have a full attendance. The Indy Car races are so much more exciting than Nascar. It seems to me the commenters here are still a little upset with Tony George from a move he made 20 years ago. It was his decision to make, not yours. He lost his position over it. But I believe the problem in all pro sports is the escalating price of admission. In todays economy, people have to pay much more for food and gas. The average fan cannot attend many events anymore. It's gotten priced out of most peoples budgets.