More than 60 people are expected to speak at a two-day public hearing, which starts Tuesday, on the future of Edmonton's historic City Centre Airport.

The city estimates it could make $500 million if it closes the airport and sells the 217 hectares of land for redevelopment.  A report released in June estimates the land could accommodate 32,000 homes and earn the city an additional $95 million in property taxes.

However, the airport is home to a number of businesses and has played a significant role in Canadian aviation history.  City Centre Airport began its life in 1929 as Blatchford Field, making it the first licensed airstrip in Canada.

"The historical value to the city of the Edmonton and the role that this airport has played affects many, many lives," said Edmonton city councillor Tony Caterina, who made a pledge to reopen the airport debate as part of his 2007 election campaign.

"If I was to suggest to you today that we bulldoze Fort Edmonton Park and build condos, what type of reaction would [you] have from the public?" he said, referring to another historical landmark.  "I don't see this is any different."

Traffic at the airport has been downsized over the years, after two hard-fought plebiscites in the early 1990's.  Most of the flights in and out of Edmonton now go through the International airport 30 kilometres south of the city.  Only private, commuter and corporate planes use City Centre Airport today. Medivac planes from northern communities also land there.

The closure of the airport would lead to the loss of jobs, said Mary Ann Stanway, owner of Airco Aircraft Charters, which employs 25 people.  

"We're a very important part of the community. We pay taxes just like everybody else and we provide employment. So why is it that we should have to apologize for our existence?" she said Friday.

However, others say the airport has limited development in the city. The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), located immediately east of the airport, would like to use the land for a much-needed expansion.

The hearing is expected to last two days. Council will make a decision later on the future of the airport.