Taking off: Ford Airport expands, wins awards

Earlier this year, Ford Airport in Iron Mountain received some big accolades. The Delta Airlines station and its team at the regional airport were not only named “Delta 2022 Station of the Year” but also “Delta Station of the Month” in May.

Delta’s awards recognize the team’s stellar combination of high-performance
metrics in customer service and on-time flights. The airport serves thousands of Delta passengers a year, traveling to and from Detroit and Minneapolis.

“It’s all based on customer feedback. You get scored on everything a passenger
would have to deal with, from check-in to baggage claim,” says Tim Howen, manager of the airport in Dickinson County. “The Delta crew does a great job.”

That’s not the only good news coming out of Ford Airport.

The county-owned, public-use airport recently opened a new $1.5 million hangar
for aircraft storage and office use and expects to break ground next spring on a new
multi-million-dollar passenger terminal.

“Ford Airport is such a key asset in our community. The facility enables
significant business travel options for area companies that are growing,” said Lois Ellis, executive director of the Dickinson Area Economic Development Alliance. “This allows several corporate headquarters to succeed in our small community.”

Driving business growth is the airport’s proximity to the paper mill in Escanaba,
the corporate offices of BOSS Snowplow in Iron Mountain and others. Tourism traffic is also on the upswing.

“There is a lot of business driving our growth,” Howen said. “I think with the way
things are going right now and the strides we are making, we have one of the busiest small airports in the U.P. We have a lot going on.”

About the airport: Located three miles west of downtown Iron Mountain, the 720-
acre airport provides commercial and passenger service and maintenance facilities.
Delta, through SkyWest Airlines, provides direct service to Detroit and Minneapolis.
FBO, operated by Kubick Aviation Services, provides charter services and operates a maintenance facility. Classic Aero Maintenance as well as FedEx also have maintenance facilities at the airport.

Also operating out of Ford Airport are: Northwoods AirLifeline, a nonprofit organization of volunteer pilots from the U.P. and Wisconsin who donate time and aircraft to transport patients with urgent medical needs to facilities outside the region, and Air Medical Group Holdings, formerly Valley Medical Services, an air medical transport and emergency medical service provider serving the U.P. and northern Wisconsin. 

The airport employs more than 50 people, with 14 crew members working directly with Delta Airlines.

New hangar: The airport is opening a new 100-foot-by-160-foot hangar on the south end of the airport. The hangar will house corporate planes and also include the offices of the Dickinson County Office of Veteran Affairs and others. The airport has partnered with the Experimental Aircraft Association out of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to create a museum on the premises. The overall project cost was about $1.5 million.

The new hangar with museum planes on display.Diverse uses: Ford Airport has become a hub for community activity. Ford Airport Day is held every September, providing an opportunity for locals to experience the airport. The event has included an aerobatic airshow, car and airplane displays, airplane rides, food and Young Eagle Rides.

The airport also hosts an aviator program for high school students. Last year students built jet engines. This year they’re building a turbine helicopter. “We’re trying to get as many people out here as possible, whether they’re flying out or not,” said Howen, who is a volunteer instructor for the program. “We want them to know the airport is here, we are a big part of the community, and we are going to continue to grow.”

Delta recognition: The Delta team was in competition with other U.P. airports and
hundreds of airports across the country in the same class. The Ford Airport team scored a perfect 5.0 to win “Station of the Year" honors. Ford Airport has been in the running for the award in the past but the 2022 honor is its first.

Delta is slated to bring in larger aircraft to handle the growing number of seasonal
passengers. The airline this month expanded its flight schedule to include an early
morning departure in addition to the mid-morning and early afternoon options.

Tourism traffic has grown to become about the same as business traffic, Howen

Nathan O'Brion, a graduate of the aviation program, poses after a check ride to become a certified pilot.What’s next: A groundbreaking on a new 30,000-square-foot passenger terminal is expected to take place in spring 2025. The current terminal, built in 1947, is about 12,000 square feet. Bids for the project – with a price tag of about $35 million – will go out in the fall or winter. The Federal Aviation Administration awarded $1 million to the airport through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. County officials expect to pursue other federal and state funding for the project. 

"The airport means a lot to this community," said Brian Bousley, who is Dickinson County controller/administrator. "There are so many international companies and so many companies around here that use that airport. It’s the hub. Business has really exploded the last couple of years." 

The airport, he said, plans to break ground in the next few weeks on another hangar, about the same size as the one about to open. In addition, a 24-foot-by-32-foot building will open soon and be used as the medical examiner's office. 

The expansion projects have been supported by the board of county commissioners, who have been "forward thinkers," Bousley said.

Said Howen: “We haven’t gone through this kind of development before. Once the
current board (of county commissioners) and the community saw the impact the airport has on the community, how valuable it is, and what it’s capable of, we started to grow.” 
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