When Aviation Planning Services Group Vice President Jeff Mishler signed on to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Master Plan, his team brought more than just planning savvy to the table; it also boasted an airfields and buildings design capability – a practical and financial attribute pure planning firms lack.

“If you don’t have a good understanding of what a project will take to construct – if you don’t have that capital improvement background – your budget projections can be way off,” said Great Lakes Aviation Leader Patrick Frame, who led client management during this project. “It can cause serious problems for owners.”

Due to RS&H’s full-service offerings, Mishler and his team were able to pull in firm airfield engineers and architects throughout the planning process to ensure the suggestions were also practical from a design outlook.

“Sometimes, pure planning firms can create something that can’t be built, since that buildings perspective isn’t there,” said Mishler. “That defeats the whole purpose of a master plan.”

Airport master plans, which lay out suggested improvements for a facility over a 20-year period, are updated about every 10 years. In the Grand Rapids airport’s case, the updated RS&H plan forecasted major growth in the surrounding region and consequentially within the airport itself. That means the airport will need to undertake several projects to ready for increased airport traffic.

“The West Michigan economy is developing rapidly,” said Mishler. “That gives the Gerald R. Ford International Airport an opportunity to position itself as a hub for travel and cargo.”

To do so, the airport needs to make five major changes, according to the master plan.

Tower, Terminal and Parking

The master plan stipulates that the Grand Rapids airport needs to relocate the air traffic control tower to make room for future terminal area expansion and to bring it up to Federal Aviation Administration standards. This move will also open up space for increased aircraft parking positions and more car parking areas for the public, the plan says.

International Travel

With the significant growth in traffic in the West Michigan region, there is increased demand for international travel. This results in the fourth major master plan recommendation – a Federal Inspection Station, which will allow the airport to process people returning from international travel.

“Right now, people returning to the United States with Grands Rapids as the final destination have to first go through another airport for customs and border protection,” said Pat.  “That means direct international flights aren’t an option for Grand Rapids.”

Because of this, many airlines choose to fly out of other airports that have Federal Inspection Stations; the airlines that do fly out of Grand Rapids have to take passengers returning to the United States through another American airport before arriving in Grand Rapids.

“It will make travel much easier for the people within this area –  both for those who now have to drive long distances to and from other airports and for those who have to take two planes to get back to Grands Rapids,” said Jeff.

Commercial Use

The last overarching recommendation centers on land currently not in use. The airport has a good amount of non-aeronautical land, which could be used for commercial opportunities and revenue generation.

“Airports are public facilities, but many people don’t realize they aren’t funded through taxes,” said Pat.

Using that land for commercial offerings, such as hotels or restaurants, would provide funds for future renovations or needs at the airport.

Next Steps

The master plan went to the FAA for final approval in late June. Meanwhile, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport is already angling to start development on the Federal Inspection Station, expansion of Concourse A, and a new parking structure.

Recent Posts

About the author

Eliza Wireback
Eliza Wireback
In her role as a communications professional, Eliza gets to tell the stories of RS&H associates and the amazing work they do for clients, colleagues and their communities.