GRAND RAPIDS — Like other airports across the nation, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport is feeling the financial fallout of the Sept.11 terrorist attacks.
“We are working hard to restore faith in the air transportation system, restore service and get people back flying and doing their business again,” Aeronautics Director James Koslosky told Kent County Aeronautics Board members at the board’s meeting Wednesday.
“We should all be concerned about the lives lost, but I think the people we’re at war with really wanted to affect our economy and we can’t let them win that battle.”
Koslosky estimates that during the four-day shutdown Ford International lost $110,000 in revenues. Because activity is not yet back up to 100 percent, he anticipates that by Dec. 31 the airport will have lost up to $1 million in net revenues.
Every aspect of the industry has been impacted by the events — airlines, fixed-base operators, suppliers, rental car companies, airport concessions and the whole travel industry in general. The situation has put a severe financial strain on everyone involved, but Koslosky said he’s certain “we can work through this and out of this and we will prevail.”
“The sooner we get back to doing what we were doing prior to Sept. 11, I think that will be the real testimonial to the people who lost their lives.”
The airport responded immediately to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) directives and remains in compliance. New FAA directives, new information and letters of advice and counsel continue to arrive daily, Koslosky noted. Administrators are now waiting to see what comes out of Congress as legislators look at a number of new air transportation security bills.
Beefed up security measures implemented in compliance with the FAA following the attacks will remain in effect until further notice. They include:
- Vehicles approaching the airport terminal must be routinely stopped and asked the nature of their business at the airport.
- Vehicles may not park within 300 feet of the terminal building. Parking is restricted to the airport’s long-term lots.
- Vehicles may not park or wait in front of the terminal building.
- Only ticketed passengers are allowed onto airport concourses beyond the security screening checkpoints.
- All passengers and luggage may be subject to additional inspection.
- Increased law enforcement patrols throughout the airport.
The restriction that has affected the airport the most financially is the 300-foot parking restriction, which wiped out all short-term, handicap, metered and rental car parking. It isn’t so much a revenue issue at this point as it is a customer service issue, Koslosky said. The airport applied for a waiver to the 300-foot restriction a week ago but has yet receive a response from the FAA.
“Every airport, because of their unique layout and configuration, is being looked at individually,” he added. “We hear some airports have been approved and others have not. But we have applied and indicated in the application what measures we would put in place to preserve the integrity of those lots within 300 feet.”
The airport is using its law enforcement officers in combination with sheriff’s department personnel and contract security people. He added that at some point in time the airport will be faced with the need to make some permanent personnel changes that in all likelihood will include an increase in security staffing.
Administrators also are working with the National Guard to place guards at concourse checkpoints at Ford International, and that was scheduled to happen last Friday.
On the national level, the federal air marshal program is being expanded on an accelerated basis. Most of the focus thus far has been on international air transportation activity, but focus on domestic air transportation will be next, he said. It’s anticipated some 10,000 to 15,000 employees will be added to the air marshal program.
Efforts already are underway to strengthen aircraft security, particularly in regard to limiting access to cockpit cabins.
It took a lot to mobilize resources between the airlines, the airport and the concessionaires to make accommodations during the shutdown, Koslosky said, and there was an outpouring of support from the community.
The Salvation Army, for instance, assisted throughout the shutdown, providing meals and counseling. To aid passengers stranded at the airport, local companies offered everything from food to diapers for children.
“It proves to me, again, why I live in West Michigan,” Koslosky said. “People deal from their hearts and I appreciate that. I’m certain the customers impacted appreciated it as well.”