The view from
30,000 feet.

2021 Community Report

The view from
30,000 feet.

2021 Community Report

Some say the sky is the limit, but for us, it's just the beginning.

Some say the sky is the limit, but for us, it's just the beginning.

A Year of Innovation and Investment

To our neighbors, partners and fellow travelers:

We began writing the 2021 report to our community with a renewed sense of optimism—and a deep sigh of relief. Our country seems to be turning the corner on the COVID-19 global pandemic, allowing us to again focus our sights confidently on the future of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

We were gratified to report a near return to pre-pandemic travel levels. Last year, we welcomed more than 2.9 million passengers—our third highest year in the history of the Airport that exceeded our own predictions by more than 600,000 guests.

Events returned in 2021, with the Runway 5K giving walkers and runners a unique racecourse on our airfield while raising money for charity. We also honored active-duty military and veterans with two rounds of Operation Handshake during the holiday season. We invested in the guest experience, bringing a new sculpture by a noted Anishinaabe sculptor to our front lobby. Our good work was recognized with a host of awards and honors.

Yes, the Ford International Airport has much to celebrate from the year just ended—and much to anticipate in the year ahead. Two watchwords come to mind to describe both: Innovation and Investment.

On the innovation side of the house, we continued to focus on new and better ways to keep our guests healthy and safe during their 2021 travels. We partnered with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Southwest Airlines, leading international airports and other organizations to introduce the Ford Launchpad for Innovative Technologies and Entrepreneurship, or FLITE. FLITE provides grants and testing opportunities to companies focused on bringing emerging air travel technology solutions to market.

When it comes to investment, we were gratified to receive an additional $4.88 million from the Federal Aviation Administration for infrastructure improvements. In June, we broke ground on a new $7.7 million operations center that will streamline and improve efficiencies for the day-to-day management of Michigan's second largest airport.

Perhaps most importantly, we began work on a $110 million expansion of Concourse A—finally! Announced in 2019 to meet passenger growth, the original groundbreaking slated for 2020 was put on pause by the pandemic. In December of last year, we were able to break ground on this expansion, which is part of more than $500 million in project improvements for our Airport.

We are optimistic 2022 will bring more tremendous opportunities with it—more innovation and more investment. More enhancements to our guest experience. More moments that will allow us to gather and celebrate. And more chances to support you as you connect with colleagues, family and friends for reunions, adventure and renewed joy through West Michigan's gateway to the world.

Thanks for the continued confidence in Ford International Airport—and for the continued opportunity to serve.

Tory Richardson, A.A.E.

Tory Richardson, A.A.E.

President and CEO
Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority

Dan Koorndyk

Dan Koorndyk

Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority Board

Dan Koorndyk

In memory

We were saddened by the untimely passing of our fellow Board member and friend, Dr. Floyd Wilson Jr. Since 2010, Floyd has been a vital part of the strategic growth of Ford International Airport. He served as Vice Chair of our Board and Chair of two committees: Human Resources and Operations and Marketing. His many contributions have positioned us for success. We deeply appreciated his leadership, his passion and his friendship. He will be missed.

The first phase of the $500 million Elevate program broke ground in December 2021 on a $110 million expansion of Concourse A to accommodate passenger growth.

The expansion will more than double the current capacity of Concourse A by adding eight new gates and nearly doubling its width and length. This will enable Ford International Airport to increase its food and beverage options by introducing an upscale marché, or food court, that will feature regionally inspired cuisine. A new executive lounge, more retailers and a greater variety of seating options will further enhance the guest experience.

Plans for additional infrastructure improvements within Elevate are also underway, including:

  • The addition of a federal inspection station, which will enable the Airport to offer nonstop international commercial passenger flights.
  • The relocation of the current air traffic control tower, or ATCT, to make way for diverse terminal-area developments such as additional tenant hangars and terminal expansion.
  • A proposed upgrade to the Airport's checked baggage inspection technology, which will enhance safety while streamlining the process for staff and guests.
  • A consolidated rental car facility and new parking infrastructure.

Elevate will help the airport continue to meet the needs of the modern traveler and enhance the guest experience.

Operations Center

Construction continues on the new $7.7 million operations center at Ford International Airport, which is expected to open its doors later this year.

We broke ground in June 2021 on the new 11,600 square-foot facility that will become the "lifeline" of the Airport. The center will consolidate key safety, security, and operations teams, and act as a backup emergency operations center for Kent County and Grand Rapids emergency management agencies. A second phase of the expansion will relocate the airport fire department to adjoin the Operations Center.

Located on the east side of the airfield, the facility will be accessible both air-side and to the public, making it an ideal location in the event of an emergency.

The user-friendly building, which will be staffed 24/7, will be built to withstand extreme weather conditions, including winds up to 250 miles per hour. It will have purposeful redundancies in technologies and communication channels to ensure services continue during an emergency.


As part of our continued commitment to innovation and economic development, FLITE took off at the Ford International Airport this year.

One of the first airport-based initiatives in the nation, the Ford Launchpad for Innovative Technologies and Entrepreneurship provides funding to encourage design, development and pilot testing of new products and services in a live airport environment. The goal is to encourage companies to develop and bring new technology solutions to market.

FLITE identified six core focus areas for the new technology: safety, security, automation, smart infrastructure, data analytics and hold rooms. The initiative has awarded its first three grants, supporting efforts to introduce self-driving wheelchairs that will deliver passengers directly to their gates, provide enhanced security through autonomous drones and create a digital twin of airside operations to improve efficiency.

Ford International Airport received support from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., Southwest Airlines and the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification. FLITE convened an advisory committee of some of the leading international airports, including Edmonton (Canada), Nashville, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa, as well as the U.S. Air Force and Vantage Airport Group. The initiative also received support from Seamless and Stantec Generation AV™.


Operation Handshake

Now in our sixth year of hosting this day-long event, we were able to honor active-duty members of armed forces and veterans traveling during the holidays in November and December with the return of Operation Handshake.

This event featured veterans groups lining the concourse exits of the airport to greet and thank military members and veterans arriving in West Michigan. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders and Blue Star Mothers welcomed the honored travelers, waving American flags, offering words of thanks and singing patriotic songs.

New this year, the Ford International Airport launched Operation Gratitude during this time. This was a thank-you letter campaign enabling Airport tenants and guests to share their appreciation for deployed troops, veterans, wounded heroes, caregivers and recruits. The Airport provided note cards, pens and markers to create the messages of gratitude, then collected and delivered them to military personnel.

Member of the military

Runway 5K

After a pandemic pause, the Runway 5K returned in 2021 as West Michigan walkers and runners took advantage of a beautiful Saturday in September to connect for some fun—and a great cause.

Ford International Airport welcomed more than 700 runners to our popular Runway 5K, which raised more than $16,000 for charity—while giving participants a rare opportunity to compete on an actual airport runway.

The Family Hope Foundation was selected as the charity partner. The Jenison nonprofit provides resources, activities, support and funding for therapies to families of children with special needs in West Michigan.

Runway 5K

MDOT Airport of the Year

Ford International Airport was honored to be recognized as Airport of the Year by the Michigan Department of Transportation Office of Aeronautics.

The Ford International Airport has been recognized for our "outstanding contribution and sustained excellence toward aviation progress in Michigan" in the air carrier category. The award applauded CEO Tory Richardson and our entire team for the Elevate program and continued community environmental stewardship.

We are committed to reducing our impact on the environment and remain focused on sustainability. Our continued partnership with Consumers Energy on energy improvements, our natural treatment system for deicing fluid and our expanded recycling program with the Kent County Department of Public Works are three great examples of our most recent stewardship.

Best & Brightest

We were honored to be recognized as one of the 2021 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For® in West Michigan and in the Nation.

The award recognizes organizations that have thoughtful and innovative approaches to human resources. An independent research firm evaluates entries based on a variety of categories, including employee enrichment and retention, education and development, compensation and benefits, recruitment, communication, selection and orientation, among others.

Ford International Airport strives to be an employer of choice in our region. We have been intentional in bringing together a team that exemplifies the best of what West Michigan has to offer, ensuring we can provide a stellar guest experience to travelers.

021 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For in West Michigan and in the Nation

9/11 Memorial Walk

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Life GR's Jesse Johnson-Brower began his 9/11 Memorial Walk with a flight from Ford International Airport to the World Trade Center Memorial.

We were honored to be among the nine public safety departments and ambulance services who provided a stirring sendoff to Johnson-Brower, who walked more than 454 miles over the following month to pay tribute to first responders and service members. He made stops at each of the sites—New York City, Shanksville, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon—where al-Qaeda-affiliated hijackers launched the single deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.

Seeing first-hand the devastation the attacks created as a first responder at the Pentagon after the attacks, Johnson-Brower founded LifeGR, a nonprofit providing life-saving trauma therapy, adrenaline therapy and relationship coaching to military, veterans and first responders. The organization has served more than 3,000 service members.

9/11 Memorial Walk

Outbreak Prevention

Ford International Airport was the first airport in Michigan to earn the Global Biorisk Advisory Council™ STAR™ Facility Accreditation status from the ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association.

GBAC STAR establishes requirements to assist facilities with work practices, protocols, procedures and systems to control risks associated with infectious agents, such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. To achieve accreditation, the Ford International Airport demonstrated compliance with the program's 20 core elements, which range from standard operating procedures and risk assessment strategies to personal protective equipment and emergency preparedness and response measures.

We are gratified our efforts under the Fly Safe. Fly Ford. campaign were recognized by ISSA. In addition to enhanced sanitation protocols, the campaign educated travelers on new precautions and established a number of new safety measures to restore confidence in air travel.

Outbreak Prevention
Quigno installation

Quigno installation

To celebrate the rich culture and history of Native Americans in West Michigan, we were delighted to unveil a new sculpture in April by noted Anishinaabe sculptor Jason Quigno.

"Aankobiisinging Eshki-kakamigak," or "Connection to Creation," graces our front lobby and is carved from black granite and Indiana limestone. It features important elements in Anishinaabe teachings starting with its base, which is a turtle with Anishinaabe floral design representing the four cardinal directions. On top of the turtle's shell sits a second feature of fire and flames flowing upward in a spiral pattern suggesting smoke. The pinnacle features four eagles with their mouths slightly open.

As the gateway of West Michigan, we are in a unique position to share the culture of our community with visitors. We were so pleased to welcome Jason Quigno's incredible sculpture into our collection as part of our continuing investment in public art.

FAA Investment

The Federal Aviation Administration awarded us an additional $4.88 million for infrastructure improvements.

The funds were used to support a new general aviation apron for based and itinerant aircraft which introduced options and competition for the GA market. Thanks in part to this grant funding, there are now two fixed based operators on the field to support business and recreational flying.

Federal Aviation Administration

As we look over the past year of advancement and engagement, we can see our future from here.

As we look over the past year of advancement and engagement, we can see our future from here.