Hopes for growth tied to airports soar

Originally posted in The Detroit Free Press on August 21, 2011


And so it goes as leaders across the state fight for passengers, airlines, aircraft sales and economic development using their airports.

Oakland County International Airport is christening its new $5.7-million terminal this week. “We have nearly every Fortune 500 firm in the country passing through our doors every year,” said county Executive L. Brooks Patterson. Travelers include the rich and famous, dignitaries, sports teams, corporate leaders and everyday folk who own private planes.

The terminal features a glitzy glass front, a vintage biplane on loan from the Kalamazoo Air Zoo hanging from the ceiling, a wall of living greenery and lofty hopes of being the first airport in the state to win Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The airport, the second-largest in Michigan, is responsible for $175 million in economic impact, said airport Director Dave VanderVeen, who added there are no plans to add commercial flights.
Building up the aerotropolis

Turkia Mullin, who runs Metro and Willow Run airports, said economic growth continues to evolve.

“If you look at airport area development like a shopping mall, we have two solid anchor ‘stores’ in Metro and Willow Run airports,” Mullin said. “Now we have to fill in development around our anchors. This is the concept driving the aerotropolis, where we have already had good success by attracting GE and Kalitta. We have a big advantage over land-locked airports like Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas.”

On the other side of the state, the Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan was formed 18 months ago following a decline in service to the region and higher ticket prices. It is led by Dick DeVos, former GOP gubernatorial candidate and president of Windquest Group, and includes executives from Grand Rapids, Lansing, Kalamazoo and Traverse City.

They have had success in increasing passenger traffic through the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and reducing average fares through the addition of service from Air Tran Airways (soon to be Southwest) and Frontier Airways.

“Air service is a critical component to the economic vitality of a community or a region in today’s global economy,” said DeVos, also a pilot.
Seeing a chance to help Detroit

In the Motor City, a new firm is raising its hand in hopes of being chosen to transform the Coleman A. Young International Airport (formerly Detroit City Airport). It has been 15 years since the airport had commercial flights, and Rowhendra has put a bid before the Detroit City Council to change that by adding a carrier and more.

“Detroit has an extraordinary opportunity to rekindle, rebuild and revitalize the east side by focusing on the potential for the Coleman A. Young International Airport to become Detroit’s version of Chicago’s Midway Airport,” said Ratcliff, managing partner of Rowhendra.

Contact Carol Cain: 313-222-6732 or clcain@cbs.com. Cain hosts “Michigan Matters” at 11 a.m. Sundays on WWJ-TV CBS Detroit (Channel 62).