A simple maintenance request has turned into a fight for Detroit’s Coleman A. Young International Airport (DET).
The flying club’s request to fix a hangar door attracted the city administration’s attention, according to officials with the new Coleman A. Young International Airport Education Association.
“We first approached the airport manager, and eventually attracted the city administration’s attention,” Dave Tarrant, executive director of the association, which is made up of a coalition of airport businesses and others concerned about the airport’s success, told officials with the National Business Aviation Association. “We learned about the field’s deeply rooted problems and the frustration among others dependent on the airport.”
Joining with the flying club were FBO AvFlight and business aviation flight department Air Eagle, as well as organizations including the Black Pilots of America, Civil Air Patrol, Tuskegee Airmen and Museum and the Friends of Detroit City Airport group.
Once a busy airport, traffic figures slipped in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. The field, located about six miles northeast of downtown Detroit, remains the eighth busiest towered airport in Michigan, however, with more than 42,000 operations in 2016.
Despite those figures, earlier this year the city contracted for a study of alternative uses for the property, including possible closure.
“There was a lack of understanding about the airport’s value, and that’s not a situation unique to DET,” said Air Eagle General Manager and Chief Pilot Michael Zabkiewicz. “Every airport is at risk, and we hope ours will ultimately be given the resources necessary to undergo a complete revitalization.”
One of the education association’s first attempts to change perceptions was at a city council meeting this summer, where members spoke of the airport’s economic importance and its role in securing airspace near the Canadian border. DET is 10 miles from the border, and its tower provides low-altitude radar coverage.
Association member Keith Newall noted the council wasn’t aware that DET could potentially receive $24.3 million in improvements – of which the city would only need to front $1.2 million – and that it could also accept FAA funds to offset the $3.5 million cost to refurbish Runway 15/33.
“Accepting federal funds would mean they’d only need to spend $190,000,” he said. “That’s a very small investment for a potentially very large return.”
In addition to their regular presence at council meetings, association members are active in community outreach efforts, including an airport clean-up event in August. The group is also working to help return the Benjamin O. Davis Aerospace Technical High School to the airport grounds, after the school moved off the airport in 2013.
“This group has taken on a huge challenge, and has done an amazing job with coordinating their efforts in just a matter of months,” said NBAA Central Region Representative Bob Quinn. “DET is one of the city’s greatest assets, and it’s an incredibly vital tool as Detroit seeks to attract high-tech businesses that need quick access.”