Ford Airport sees increase in passenger count, looks to build new terminal

Over the past 20 years, Ford Airport has doubled its annual passenger count from 10,000 to more than 20,000 passengers.
Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 4:44 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 5, 2022 at 5:47 PM EDT
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KINGSFORD, Mich. (WLUC) - While some airports across the U.P. have been shrinking because of airlines dropping flights, Ford Airport in Dickinson County has increased its passenger count. It’s also improved facilities and says it has more expansions on the way.

Ford Airport may be one of the smallest in the U.P., but airport manager Tim Howen said he is committed to seeing the airport grow.

“We have made some upgrades to the buildings. We have made some energy and light improvements,” Howen said.

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Howen said most of the $1 million annual maintenance fund goes toward repairing the airport’s asphalt. Howen has worked at the airport for 20 years as a manager and a pilot. In that time, the airport doubled its passenger count.

“We went from barely hitting 10,000 passengers a year to more than 20,000. We were steadily increasing before COVID hit,” Howen said.

Howen said now the airport is back to normal operations, expecting to hit 20,000 again this year. SkyWest operates all Delta flights in and out of the airport. Each plane holds 50 passengers.

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“We have one flight to Minneapolis and one to Detroit. It suits us very well,” Howen said.

Starting Thursday, those flights are direct again, with a late morning departure to Detroit, and a late afternoon flight to Minneapolis. Howen said Ford Airport still feels the impact when flights are canceled at other U.P. airports.

“Every time an airline pulls out we are affected,” Howen said. “Sometimes the impact is negative, or we might increase our numbers a little bit. However, it hurts the entire area.”

Commercial air service to Ford Airport is subsidized by the Federal Essential Air Service Program and its contract continues for another year.

Even with the uncertainty the pandemic has brought to the airline business, Dickinson County still sees a steady flow of private and commercial travel.

“We are very fortunate in the Dickinson County area that we do have a lot of corporate air travel that uses both commercial and private planes to come in and out. That gives us a stable user-based that is located here in the immediate community,” said Lois Ellis, Dickinson Area Economic Development Alliance executive director.

A new hangar has been under construction at the airport for the last year. It will be a county building storing the World War II A-26 Invader, a small museum and other private jets. However, this is not the only renovation project in the works.

“More recently, we are working towards a new terminal,” Howen said.

Howen said the current terminal is half the size of what the airport needs it to be. They are still in the design phase of the project and Howen is hopeful they can begin construction on a brand-new terminal within two years.