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February 15th 2024 | Written By Press Release | Share

Southwest Airlines Commits $100K to Ford International Airport’s FLITE Program

Southwest Airlines Commits $100K to Ford International Airport’s FLITE Program

Funds to Accelerate High-Tech Solutions and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem for Air Travel

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., February 15, 2024 – Southwest Airlines® has committed $100,000 to the Ford Launchpad for Innovative Technologies and Entrepreneurship, or FLITE, to further fuel innovation in the aviation industry. FLITE is one of the first airport-based initiatives of its kind to provide grants and pilot-testing opportunities to companies focused on bringing emerging air travel technology solutions to market.

“We are grateful to have Southwest Airlines’ partnership in revolutionizing the future of aviation through FLITE,” said Tory Richardson, President and CEO of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority. “With the support of instrumental partners like Southwest, FLITE has proven to be an integral part of innovation, providing companies with access to a live environment for testing. We look forward to the continued success and advancement of the FLITE program.”

Southwest® has been a partner of FLITE since the program first launched in 2022 and has contributed to shaping its direction and goals. The airline has provided critical insights to startups working toward market readiness and identified key areas within the aviation ecosystem ripe for technological advancement. Their recent financial sponsorship of FLITE will further advance the program’s mission of developing companies pioneering technologies in the aviation mobility space.

”Southwest is always looking for opportunities to get in on the ground floor of aviation innovation,” said Kevin Kleist, Sr. Emerging Trends Advisor at Southwest Airlines. “Aviation, like all industries, is undergoing rapid change and FLITE is helping to identify solutions for the evolving environment.” 

FLITE's ecosystem also benefits from partnerships with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Seamless Ventures and the West Michigan Aviation Academy.

To date, FLITE has supported 19 companies, awarding more than $750,000 in total grant funds across five rounds. The program focuses on five core areas for technological advancement:

  • Automation & Analytics: Improving operational efficiency and optimization of workforce and other resources through automation and analysis of data.
  • Electrification & Sustainability: Switching fossil fuel vehicles and infrastructure to electrics and other decarbonization projects.
  • Safety & Security: Strengthening passenger and worker safety and security throughout the airport campus.
  • Door-to-Door & Terminal Guest Experience: Improving the efficiency of getting to and from the airport and improving the pre-boarding experience.
  • Advancing Aviation: Exploring the enabling infrastructure and implications of emerging commercial aviation use cases.

For more information on sponsorship and partnership opportunities for FLITE, visit

Image 1_Kevin Kleist
Image 3_FLITE Pilot Test


About the Gerald R. Ford International Airport

The Gerald R. Ford International Airport is the second busiest airport in Michigan, serving business and leisure travelers with nonstop and connecting flights on six airlines. The Ford International Airport is managed and operated by the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority. For more information, visit or follow the airport on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram @FlyGRFord.

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Topics: FLITE