Detroit and Minneapolis airports get federal boost | Information, Sports activities, Jobs

NEARLY $1 BILLION in federal funding has been given to 85 airports to expand and upgrade facilities. The move will benefit airports in both Detroit and Minneapolis, the major connections for travelers who use Dickinson County’s Ford Airport. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News file photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is giving nearly $1 billion to 85 airports to expand and upgrade terminals and other facilities, using money approved in last year’s huge infrastructure bill.

Nearly $50 million will go to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport to replace passenger boarding bridges, upgrade restrooms and install new baggage claim belts. Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport will receive $21.3 million for improvements to boarding bridges, walkways, ramps and electrical substations.

The Detroit and Minneapolis airports are regional hubs for passengers flying out of Dickinson County’s Ford Airport in Kingsford.

A total of 15,235 passengers boarded commercial flights at Ford in 2021 but the pace is brisker this year as air travel rebounds. A record 22,980 passengers boarded flights at Kingsford in pre-pandemic 2019.

The grants announced Thursday are the first installation of $5 billion for airport projects that were included in an infrastructure bill that Congress approved and President Joe Biden signed last November.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the projects will help meet future demand for travel and make flying safer and more efficient.

“I don’t think anybody could look at airports across America today and say that the existing system and existing levels of funding have been adequate,” Buttigieg told reporters.

Other large grants include $60 million to improve the terminal and replace the bag-handling system at Denver International Airport, $50 million apiece for Boston’s Logan Airport and Orlando International Airport in Florida, and $49.6 million for Dulles Airport outside Washington, DC, to build a new course.

The FAA said 532 airports submitted applications for 658 projects that, if all had been granted, would have totaled more than $14 billion.

In the past, federal funds have gone largely into runways, taxiways and towers while airports paid for terminal upgrades with money they get from passenger facility charges, or PFCs — up to $4.50 per flight that is tacked onto every airline ticket.

Buttigieg said it is fine to spend taxpayer money on projects that were generally funded by passenger fees in the past because “there is a need out there; taxpayers expect it and want it.”

Congress could consider raising ticket taxes for airport projects next year. Many airports want to raise the fees, but airlines don’t.

SkyWest Airlines, based in St. George, Utah, has been the Essential Air Service carrier at Ford Airport since December 2012, operating under a contract that provides an annual federal subsidy of up to $3,868,146. Operating as a Delta carrier, SkyWest uses 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet 200 aircraft for daily flights to Detroit or Minneapolis.

The airport saw a 50% decline in boardings in 2020 but stayed above the 10,000 threshold needed to be considered a primary airport, which delivers at least $1 million annually in Airport Improvement Program funds.

The county, meanwhile, qualified for a pair of $1 million airport grants under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Act signed in the final weeks of the Trump administration as well as last November’s infrastructure bill. This is in addition to a 2020 CARES Act appropriation of $1,085 million, which was used to pay off $690,000 in hangar construction borrowing and help meet other airport costs.

In May, the county decided to consider a renovation of the airport terminal, agreeing to hire a consultant to evaluate future needs. A $140,000 study by civil engineers Prein & Newhof of Grand Rapids may be completed by the end of the year, paid with federal funds.

An expansion of the Fontana Terminal will likely be needed if the airport is to ever host larger aircraft, according to county officials.

As air travel continues to revert to pre-pandemic conditions, airlines are struggling to keep up.

An average of 2.33 million passengers passed through security checkpoints at domestic airports during the seven days ending July 1. That was close to the seven-day average of roughly 2.38 million passengers during the same 2019 period, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Airlines have experienced staffing shortages and an assortment of other issues that have resulted in flight delays and cancellations. Many airlines, including Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, have responded by curtailing summer schedules. They are using larger planes on average to carry more passengers while they scramble to hire and train more pilots.

At Ford Airport, the flight cancellation rate from May 2021 through April 2022 was 1.4%, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The on-time percentage was 84% ​​over the same period, with the average delay lasting about 80 minutes.

The flight cancellation rate at Detroit from May 2021 through April 2022 was 1.5%, which ranked seventh-best among major US airports. At Minneapolis, the cancellation rate over the same period was 1.3%, which was fourth-best.

In 2017, the cancellation rate at Detroit was 0.9% while at Minneapolis it was 0.6%.

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