History & Statistics
Learn more about aviation in West Michigan and the history of GFIA.
Aviation first came to Kent County more than 90 years ago when a Wright biplane rolled across the grass at the West Michigan State Fairground at Comstock Park.
These beginnings laid an aviation foundation that currently contributes over $3 billion annually in economic activity in the West Michigan region and connects more than three million passengers a year to destinations worldwide.
The Adventure Begins
On September 10, 1911, a skeptical crowd watched a Wright biplane take off from the West Michigan State Fairground at Comstock Park.
Groundbreaking for Kent County's first airport took place on November 26, 1919, four miles from downtown Grand Rapids.
The United States' first regularly scheduled airline service began on July 31, 1926, between Grand Rapids and Detroit.
On August 12, 1927, Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis at Kent County Airport. This visit came months after his historic New York-to-Paris flight.
In 1928, the Miss Grand Rapids transported the first shipment of furniture by air.
With the infusion of federal funds, the airport took on a new look in the 1930s. WPA monies were used to remodel the Administration building and build a new restaurant.
In March 1930, the Kent County Board of Supervisors appointed one of its own, Tom Walsh, to manage the airport. Tom Walsh's years of service to the airport would span almost 30 years and leave a lasting legacy.
The new Administration building (pictured at the top of the page), completed in the fall of 1939, boasted the very latest heating, lighting, plumbing, and all modern conveniences. The building's 24-inch-thick, steel-reinforced concrete walls were built to be "bomb proof."
In 1940, Grand Rapids was one of only six U.S. cities boasting scheduled air service north, south, east, and west.
World War II military needs in the early 1940s led to the addition of several buildings at the airport. Because it fulfilled all requirements for night lighting, the airport was a useful place early in the war to train transport pilots and to conduct training exercises.
The first pilot cadet training program in Michigan began at Kent County Airport on July 1, 1942. Hundreds of military pilots eventually received their primary and advanced flight and ground school instruction at the field over the next two years.
All-cargo air freight service came to Grand Rapids in 1946, and in September 1947, a new $60,000 control tower began operating atop the Administration building.
By 1949 the airport's facilities were strained to the maximum and the citizens of Kent County voted to expand the airport at its current location, which would require the purchase of 120 acres and 89 houses.
In early 1952 the newly expanded runway was finished. The runway was 150 feet wide and 5,700 feet long. For a time, movable gates were necessary to keep 44th Street traffic from crossing the airport's longest runway while planes were taking off and landing.
By 1956, more expansions were needed as the airport was again bursting at the seams. Yet, these improvements were meant only to tide the airport over for a few more years.
On January 14, 1957, the Aeronautics Board hired an aviation consultant to conduct a study exploring which option was more feasible: to expand and improve the existing airport or to start over on a new site.
By summer 1958, the Board of Supervisors had retained an aviation consultant to develop the master plan for a new airport in Cascade Township. The first master plan was completed in 1959.
At midnight on Saturday, November 23, 1963, the official transfer of all Kent County air service from the old facility on 44th Street in Grand Rapids to the new facility in Cascade Township took place.
The new Kent County Airport was formally dedicated on June 6, 1964, with festivities that included a full-scale air fair. The U.S. Navy "Chuting Stars," stunt planes, and the Blue Angels performed.
In 1970, the Airport Inn doubled in size, a new air freight terminal was constructed, and offices and hangars for the Centurion Flight Center were built.
A high point in the airport's history came in 1974, when Gerald R. Ford and his wife Betty returned to Grand Rapids for the first time after he had become President of the United States.
On January 27, 1977, Kent County Airport became Kent County International Airport with the opening of a U.S. Customs Bureau Office in the terminal.
On January 23, 1982, the airport's first Boeing 747 landed on the newly expanded 10,000-foot runway.
In 1984, Kent County International Airport surpassed the one million passenger mark.
Each year from 1990 through 1994, a record was set in total cargo volume - and 1994's doubled that of 1989.
By the end of 1994, there were over 150 commercial passenger flights per day, nonstop service to 13 major cities, and construction was completed on an extension of East-West Runway 8L-26R.
In 1997, a new 8,500-foot North-South air carrier runway was added in anticipation of the eventual need to rebuild the main East-West runway and to give air traffic controllers and flight crews greater operational flexibility.
In 1999, the airport's new Air Cargo and Trade Center opened on the east side of the airport. This 160,000-square-foot facility, nearly three times the size of the former air cargo building, was 100% leased even before ground was broken.
Also in 1999, the airport was renamed the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in honor of the 38th President of the United States.
In the year 2000, the airport completed a $50 million major renovation of the passenger terminal building.
In 2001, the airport's primary East-West runway underwent a nine-month, $32 million complete reconstruction.
In 2002, the airport opened a 1,000-space express shuttle parking lot, and became the first airport in the nation to screen 100% of checked baggage for explosives using new explosive detection machines.
2003 marked the 40th anniversary of the airport at its current location.
In 2004, the airport served 2,150,125 passengers, a new record high. This marked the first time in the airport's history that more than two million passengers were served in a single calendar year. The airport added 750 additional spaces to its express shuttle parking lot, and the property underwent a "facelift" as the new landscape project was completed.
2005-2007 saw the reconstruction of the airport's general aviation ramps, increasing their load capacities to accommodate larger business jets including the G-V and Boeing Business Jet.
The airport continued to set new air cargo records, with 95,190,326 pounds of cargo passing through in 2008. That's more than 130 tons per day!
In 2009, the airport completed the massive Terminal Area and Parking Improvement Program, which included a four level 4,700-space parking garage, roadway canopy, garage-to-terminal pedestrian sky bridges, elevator/escalator cores, and myriad infrastructure improvements. In addition to providing close-in covered parking, the garage increased the total public parking capacity at the airport to 9,875 spaces.
In 2011, the Kent County Board of Commissioners voted to approve the addition of a seventh member. This member is to be an individual living outside of Kent County, but within the West Michigan Combined Statistical Area (Allegan, Barry, Ionia, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, and Ottawa counties), who will represent private sector businesses.
November 23, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the airport at it's current location.
July 1, 2016 marked transition of the airport management from a Department of Kent County to the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority.
In 2018, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport exceeded the three million passenger mark for the first time in its history, serving 3,265,242 passengers, a 16.13% increase from the previous year.
The Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority maintains operational statistics on aviation activity at GFIA. Recent Aviation Activity Reports are available below. Please note that Activity Reports are not available until the 20th of the month (or the first business day after the 20th of the month) following the reporting period.
Please click HERE to view the 2023 GFIAA Operating Budget.
About Gerald R. Ford
July 14, 1913 – December 26, 2006
In December of 1999, Kent County International Airport became Gerald R. Ford International Airport in honor of Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President of the United States. President Ford served West Michigan as a U.S. Congressman from 1949-1973 and was a long-time supporter of the airport.
Arguably the most famous and influential person to hail from Grand Rapids, President Ford maintained strong ties with the community, lending his name to the Gerald R. Ford Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the portion of Interstate 196 that passes through Grand Rapids, the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building, the Ford Fieldhouse at Grand Rapids Community College, the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center, and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
The Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum website offers an extensive archive of information and photographs of President Ford and the Ford family, a video biography, a timeline of his life and career, a list of books written about him, digitized documents from the Library's holdings and much more.