Numbers Soar at Ford Airport | News, Sports, Jobs
KINGSFORD — Ford Airport recorded a record 2,491 passenger boardings in July as traffic rebounded — at least for now — above pre-pandemic levels.
Airport manager Tim Howen updated the county council at a committee meeting Thursday in the airport’s Fontana terminal, which could see new construction in the next few years. “The numbers have just gone up on COVID”, Howen told the council.
In the short term, however, the airport could feel the effects of a pilot shortage disrupting air travel across the country.
SkyWest Airlines has not reduced its schedule at Dickinson County Airport, but some flights will soon include stops in Rhinelander, Wis., rather than direct connections to and from Minneapolis, Howen said. The calendar should return to normal from October 5, he added.
Resolving the pilot shortage, meanwhile, could take some time. Training to become a commercial airline pilot in the United States typically involves 1,500 flight hours and can cost nearly $100,000, limiting the number of applicants, according to the Associated Press.
SkyWest, based in St. George, Utah, has been the Essential Air Service carrier at Ford Airport since December 2012, operating under a contract that provides an annual federal subsidy of up to $3,868,146. A Delta carrier, SkyWest uses 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet 200 aircraft for daily flights to Detroit and Minneapolis.
The airport saw a 50% drop in boardings in 2020, but remained above the 10,000 threshold needed to receive at least $1 million a year in federal Airport Improvement Program funds. There were 15,235 boardings in 2021 and the 10,000 mark has already been exceeded this year. There was a record 22,980 boardings in 2019 before the pandemic.
According to county officials, an expansion or replacement of the Fontana Terminal will likely be required if Ford Airport is to accommodate larger planes. A $140,000 study by civil engineers Prein & Newhof of Grand Rapids could be completed by the end of the year, paid for with federal funds.
On Thursday, the county council heard from representatives of Minneapolis-based Alliiance, an architectural firm evaluating terminal designs that could be presented to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval. The current schedule, which depends on funding and other factors, calls for construction in 2025 or 2026.
Board members also had the opportunity to inspect the new Oshkosh Striker rescue and firefighting vehicle recently introduced into service. Federal funds paid for most of the $774,000 cost, with the county contributing 5%, or about $39,000.