Ford airport breaks ground on phase one of federal inspection station

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The FIS is part of Project Elevate and one of three new developments for Ford airport to accommodate projected passenger growth over the next 20 years. Rendering courtesy Gerald R. Ford International Airport

Gerald R. Ford International Airport entered phase one of its goal to welcome nonstop international commercial passenger flights.

To accomplish that goal, airport officials have begun discussions at the federal level to build out a federal inspection station (FIS). A date for its completion has not yet been set.

However, phase one of the construction project will take place on the east end of the terminal. It will include a new baggage claim area, restrooms and operations infrastructure that will be used for domestic flights until the full FIS project is completed.

The FIS will be an area for customs officers, allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to consolidate multiple locations into a single facility. The airport eventually will build a corridor from Concourse B that will lead to a dedicated customs area, complete with screening equipment, security, holding cells and other FIS requirements. When fully built out, the FIS will be able to screen 400 passengers per hour.

The FIS is part of Project Elevate and one of three new developments for Ford airport to accommodate projected passenger growth over the next 20 years. Supported by Sen. Peter MacGregor, former Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, former Rep. Chris Afendoulis and The Right Place, Project Elevate secured a $5 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to begin work on curbside improvements needed for the FIS, which is expected to cost $30 million.

Local taxpayer dollars will not be used to finance Project Elevate. It will be paid for with a combination of federal and state grants, municipal bonds issued by the airport and user fees.

The architect for the project is Mead & Hunt and The Christman Company is the general contractor. The project is expected to have more than an $8 million impact in the West Michigan economy.

“Phase one of this project is an important step forward as we work to bring direct international travel to West Michigan,” said Tory Richardson, president and CEO of Ford Airport. “Creating this additional space will signal to the federal government we are serious about creating a FIS at the Ford Airport while offering us needed additional baggage claim area in the meantime.

“We are thankful for funding from the MEDC, which required us to begin this project now. While our numbers, like those of every airport around the country, have been impacted by COVID-19, we have seen steady growth in the number of passengers throughout this summer and are ahead of our projections.”

Currently, the airport cannot process direct international arrivals other than private aircraft. When a private aircraft lands at the airport from an international airport, CBP agents meet and screen passengers at the aircraft. Without the screening facilities of a FIS, CBP’s screening capacity is limited to small aircraft.

In addition to the FIS, the airport plans to expand Concourse A and relocate the current air traffic control tower to the east side of the airfield. The expansion of the terminal apron, which is a critical component to Concourse A, will be completed in the coming weeks.

At its peak in 2019, the Ford airport generated more than $3.1 billion in annual economic impact, serving more than 3.58 million passengers.

“As we continue to emerge from the pandemic, we know our community is anxious to get out and to explore,” said Dan Koorndyk, board chair of the Airport Authority. “We look forward to enhancing the gateway to West Michigan by providing our guests with a convenient, comfortable travel experience in state-of-the-art facilities.”

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