YPSILANTI, MI — Willow Run Airport (YIP) straddles the Michigan counties of Wayne and Washtenaw and is located seven miles west of Detroit Metropolitan Airport; both airports are operated by the Wayne County Airport Authority.
Built by Henry Ford during World War II, the Ford Motor Company once produced B-24 bombers for the U.S. Government here. After the war ended, Willow Run became Detroit’s primary passenger service airport; today, operations look very different.
The airport sits on some 2,600 acres and now serves cargo, corporate, and general aviation clientele; there is no longer commercial passenger service due to a specific agreement with Metro’s signatory carriers that ensures the airports don’t compete for that service.
Airport director of three years David DiMaria says fuel is up some 60 percent here, and cargo some 70 percent. “For the most part, our operators here weathered a very tough storm in 2009,” he relates. “We were glad to see that they were really trying to diversify what they were doing as much as they could; it kept them afloat.”
The airport’s FBOs, Active Aero and Avflight, report that business is doing well currently, however the full potential of the airport has yet to be realized. A longer runway is needed to support larger aircraft, and the airport is still considered primarily ‘domestic.’
A larger concept
With such strong ties to a struggling auto industry, DiMaria says operators have ramped up corporate charter activity to mitigate the effects of the recession, and the ebbs and flows of auto production.
There is excitement for the future here, and much of it involves the ‘aerotropolis’ concept. Still an air transport model that is prevalent in the international community, the aerotropolis serves to place airports in the center of an urban development model with cities growing around them, “ ... connecting workers, suppliers, executives, and goods to the global marketplace,” states John Kasarda’s aerotroplis.com (for more on John Kasarda and the ‘aerotropolis’ concept, refer to this issue’s cover story).
The Detroit Region Aerotropolis Development Corporation is a separate entity from the airports; Metro Airport and Willow Run serve as the anchors on either side of the proposed aerotropolis site, explains DiMaria.
“The concept is to develop the land in and around the airports,” he says. “The airports aren’t necessarily the economic driver … they play a role in drawing business into the area.
“We serve as that western anchor of the aerotropolis; to what extent we can bring business in or facilitate business in the area … that’s our role within the development corporation.”
The corporation is currently developing its ‘communications’ plan, relates DiMaria. The state of Michigan passed legislation last December that allows for enterprise tax-free zones within the aerotropolis. Part of the difficulty is now that the state has changed governors, there’s a different focus on how to incentivize businesses to come into the area, he adds.
Comments Avflight president Carl Muhs, “Our biggest challenge in Michigan, certainly in the greater Detroit area, is the development of the aerotropolis.
“It’s a process that has to move forward fairly soon; I think you’re going to find a number of communities around the country looking to do the exact same thing. I think what we have available that most don’t is affordable land, and two airports that are very close to each other.”
Information on the Detroit Region Aerotropolis can be found at: www.detroitregionaerotropolis.com.
Remarks DiMaria, “Due to the recession, a lot of the lifting capacity in the cargo industry has shrunk; the companies that couldn’t make it aren’t there anymore. Some of our operators are benefiting from that.”
Customs operates here Monday through Friday, 24-hours; almost all flights handled by Customs are from Canada and less than 5 percent are from Mexico. According to DiMaria, everything here is pretty much on-demand cargo, “The operators run whenever they have to.
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