We’re growing. Growing as a community, growing as an economy, and growing as an airport. 

In 2017, 2.8 million passengers flew in and out of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GFIA), 5.9 percent above the 2016 passenger number. Along with the increase in demand, comes the need to plan for future growth within 10 to 20 years down the runway. 

Airports are a critical piece of the region’s economic growth engine. GFIA opens West Michigan’s businesses to the world, bringing in and sending out goods and talent from around the globe. 

That is why Birgit Klohs and Rick Chapla from The Right Place are collaborating with GFIA in the development of the airport’s next 20-year master plan. 


In 2016, the airport began the process of developing a new 20-year master plan for the airport. The plan consists of an assessment of existing facilities and future demand. It identifies future facility requirements and outlines an implementation program. It also considers sustainable factors and environmental consequences, with the ability to timely finance and meet future demand.

In the end, the plan is about providing the strategy and infrastructure for accommodating growth and maintaining GFIA as a world-class gateway. 

Among the findings discovered through the master planning process, two key recommendations emerged as a top priority: the implementation of a Federal Inspection Station (FIS), and the replacement of GFIA’s air traffic control tower. 


Imagine travelling internationally without having to make that extra stop in Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, or another domestic hub. That is the power and convenience of an FIS. 

An FIS is essentially a customs and border protection space in the terminal that will allow the airport to accept scheduled direct inbound and outbound commercial international flights. 

Today, GFIA is losing 40 percent of West Michigan’s international passengers to other airports, resulting in an estimated $1.7 million in lost airport revenue and $15 million in lost regional revenue. The airport also projects that regional demand for direct international flights is estimated at 243,500 passengers per year. 

GFIA is also a diversion airport for multiple, large airlines which have hubs in Chicago and Detroit. With a designated FIS, GFIA would be able to accommodate wide-body aircraft arriving from international destinations on Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines, American Airlines, Allegiant, and others. 

Once the airport has consensus to construct the FIS, design and construction would take approximately 24 months. This, however, must begin with approval and designation from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The most efficient path to designation is via a Congressional act to compel Customs and Border Protection to designate GFIA as an “International Airport.” 


The second key finding in the new master plan is the relocation and replacement of the Air Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) at the airport. 

The current ATCT is 54-years-old, which makes it the second oldest operational tower at a “Top 100” airport in the country. The current location and construction of the ATCT is inhibiting airport growth due to line-of-sight issues. For example, the top level of the parking garage is not covered because air traffic controllers’ line-of-sight of the taxiway on the north side of the airport would be obstructed. 

GFIA and the Airport Authority are urging the FAA to prioritize the relocation and replacement of the ATCT. To date, GFIA has lost an estimated $3.15 million in revenue and will continue to lose approximately $1.46 million each year until the ATCT is relocated and replaced. 

The airport currently predicts that within the next four years, future development passengers will be restricted and/or not completed. This will result in increased congestion, delays, and an overall decrease in customer satisfaction and safety. 

A formal inquiry on the status of the ATCT within the FAAs Tower Replacement Program has been sent to the FAA Acting Administrator. However, the airport is still waiting for a response. 

As West Michigan’s community and economy continue to grow and prosper, it is imperative that we invest in the initiatives that drive growth. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport plays a critical role in our region’s future and The Right Place is fully supportive of these two initiatives.

For more information, please contact us.