The Gerald R. Ford International Airport has hired airport-consulting firm LeighFisher to undertake a review of the airport’s governance structure.
Currently, the airport is operated as a county enterprise fund, and board members are appointed by Kent County.
The powers and duties of the airport board have been largely unchanged since 1956.
The review is a result of the October 2011 Kent County Aeronautics Governance Subcommittee report by the Board of Commissioners that said a review of airport governance should be completed in 2014.
The 2011 report recommended that the study give particular consideration to issues such as regional representation of airport governance, maximizing the regional economic contribution of the airport and efficient operation of the airport as an enterprise fund.
LeighFisher’s review will cover several topics.
Determine drivers of interest in change of the airport’s existing governance
Analyze governance to determine existing authority
Assess governance models at similar-sized U.S. Airports
Conduct an analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for different airport governance models, including any recommended changes to the structure, if determined to be viable
Examine Michigan law to determine legislative actions required under various options. LeighFisher is partnering with Grand Rapids law firm Miller Canfield for the legal review
Present a detailed report of governance transition issues and the costs of transition experienced at similar-sized airports
“There are many different examples that the consultant will be taking a look at,” said Brian Ryks, Ford airport executive director. “They are going to be looking at the top 100 airports in the country to look at the type of governance model that each of those airports has and coming back with some recommendations.
“The types of airports are really city controlled, county controlled, airport authorities or there are examples of hybrids that are a little bit in between a city or county-controlled airport and a full airport authority.”
A proactive step
Ryks and Roger Morgan, chairman of the airport’s board of directors, said they have no preconceived notions of what recommendations will come out of the review, and they emphasized that the airport was being proactive in taking this step, not reacting to any issues or problems.
“A lot of times, you get into these exercises, because they are forced, because something is not working appropriately, and that is not the case here,” Ryks said. “I think it’s just an opportunity for us to look to see if there should be more regional representation with our operation and also if there are some efficiencies that can be gained through that.”
Morgan said the timing is particularly good due to all of the upgrades the airport is undergoing and its potential economic impact in the region.
LeighFisher has helped plan and conduct governance reviews for more airports in the U.S. than any other firm in the industry.
Additionally, the California firm has local knowledge, having served as a consultant to Ford airport from 1992-2012, when it conducted numerous studies for the airport.