Blog, News
Turbulent skies for some small airports
March 22, 2011
  • Share
  • By Brandon Grenier
    March 18, 2011

    LANSING — Abrams Municipal Airport in Grand Ledge, Mich., is a small, publicly owned airport that handles mostly personal and charter traffic.

    Like many of its counterparts across Michigan and nationally, Abrams has watched small-scale aviation business — and thus revenue — shrink in the continuing aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

    Although Abrams is making its lowest profits in years, netting about $5,000 last year, its management predicts business will bounce back.

    Abrams is one of about 240 public use airports and heliports in the state, according to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).

    They range from 17 with commercial airline service — such as Detroit Metropolitan Airport and ones in Flint, Grand Rapids, Marquette, Pellston, Alpena, Traverse City and Lansing — to small privately owned and municipal ones, like Abrams. Almost 32.4 million passengers got on or off at those with commercial service last year, according to MDOT.

    The city of Grand Ledge owns Abrams, which has revenue from farming the surrounding land, payments from the National Guard that operates there, fuel sales and hangar rentals.

    According to its operations budget, Abrams collects $19,000 annually from the National Guard and $24,000 from hangar rentals. It receives $150,000 annually from the federal government for infrastructure, said City Administrator Jon Bayless, who also manages the airport

    Bayless said maintenance costs eat up most of the operational income. Most of its budget goes to mowing the grass and plowing snow from the runways.

    Dave Powers, director of operations at GrandAir Aviation Inc., said, “If this airport had to exist on generating its own revenue, or any airport for that matter, it wouldn’t work.”

    GrandAir, a charter service, is the airport’s fixed base operator and offers flight training.

    Powers said Abrams is better than most other general aviation airports at saving money, although it still needs federal funds for paving runways and building improvements.

    In February, MDOT named Branch County Memorial Airport in Coldwater, Mich., as Michigan’s Airport of the Year. The department cited it for “efficient use of limited available funding, and for maintaining strong community support for the general aviation airport, which has about 12,000 takeoffs and landings annually.”

    Meanwhile, belts could tighten significantly for rural and small-city commercial airports as Congress considers Republican proposals to cut federal subsidies that support service at about 150 cities nationally, including six in Michigan.

    For example, the federal Essential Air Service program gave Muskegon County Airport the smallest subsidy in Michigan last year, $660,770, and Manistee County Blacker Airport the largest, $1.8 million, U.S. Department of Transportation figures show. The state’s other four that may be affected are in the Upper Peninsula: Escanaba, Hancock/Houghton, Ironwood and Iron Mountain/Kingsford.

    MDOT Director Kirk Steudle commended small general-aviation airports for their ability to maintain budgets, but said small airports must still make sacrifices, even with excellent management.

    Given the state’s economic problems, they can’t count on MDOT to rescue them from financial problems, Steudle said. “We internally have stopped a whole bunch of services we used to provide, primarily because we don’t have the money, and we don’t have the people.”,0,5364433.story

    Date: 2011-03-18