Q&A with MBS International Airport Director James Canders

The Great Lakes Bay Region is in a time of leadership transition. This article is one in a series of Q&A articles with some of the new leaders in the area.

James Canders, who joined MBS International Airport in Freeland in 2018 as assistant airport manager, was named Airport Director in 2020. After graduating from Daniel Webster College in Aviation Management, he served four years in the U.S. Army. He began his career in airport management in Albany, New York, followed by various roles in operations and administration in two Michigan airports, Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, as well as airports in Baghdad, Iraq, and Bangor, Maine.
James Canders was appointed Airport Director at MBS International Airport in 2020.Question: Can you quantify the importance of the airport to the community?

Answer: In 2019, MBS was handling over 260,000 airline service passengers on approximately 10 airline flights a day. We also handled over 40 general aviation flights a day, which included the daily corporate shuttles to Texas and Louisiana and several corporate aircraft. MBS also primarily deals with business travelers in the region. This was the case in 2019, and will become true again as businesses begin to send employees out more. Other airports in the region are becoming more leisure travel gateways, so if anyone wants to reach beyond the typical leisure destinations, they will need to go through airlines like the ones here at MBS.

Q: What’s next for airports in general?  

A: Airports are still trying to find out where things are headed. COVID-19 dealt airports a heavy blow, but now we have to deal with crew shortages. Right now, every airport is seeing reduced flights, but all existing flights are leaving full. Airlines want to bring in more planes to airports and get people to where they want to go, but without staff to crew the planes the airlines just can’t add flights. The industry is anticipating it will take two to three years to get staffing back to where it needs to be.

Q: What’s next for MBS? 

A: MBS continues to look for new air service into the region, which could ultimately make more regional passengers use MBS. Additionally, with the uncertainty of air travel over the next two to three years, MBS is having to be more creative with non-aeronautical revenue to ensure we can maintain our overall existing infrastructure.

MBS hopes to bring new airlines to the region.Q: This year, the airport received a $367,200 Federal Aviation Administration grant to repair the runway. Will the airport close for the repairs? What improvements will passengers or pilots notice after the repairs are made?

A: This repair involves our secondary runway at MBS. It will be a complete stripping and replacement of the runway asphalt, similar to what was done to our main runway in 2019. The runway will close for the repairs for approximately three months, but the airport will remain open to air traffic. MBS completely rehabilitates our asphalt every 20 years or so, but it takes several years to get everything completed. We are currently rehabilitating our main aircraft taxiway, which runs parallel to the main runway. Once we complete the work on the secondary runway we are planning to rehabilitate its associated taxiway a year or two later.

Q: You took over as Airport Director at an interesting time in history. What lessons from the pandemic improved how the airport operates today?

A: MBS has had to do more with less and we need to be very creative to maintain financial viability. There have been several federal grants put forth to aid us, but we cannot rely on those forever. MBS is working to diversify our revenue streams into other areas, so should something come along that affects one revenue stream we will be able to still operate safely and effectively.

Q: What’s something about MBS that you wish more people knew?

A: MBS currently serves passengers well beyond the communities of Midland, Bay and Saginaw, stretching out to 80 miles. We are constantly working to ensure our air service meets the needs of the region and its residents.   

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at editor@RouteBayCity.com