The front page headline in my hometown newspaper said “Grand Haven Airport expansion to appear soon.” And the story was very positive and upbeat. None of the usual carping about airport expansion or money being spent on airports. Good news about an airport in the general media. Rare in much of the country, but not here.
Of course, to the non-pilots writing and reading the story the “airport” being expanded was not the runways and taxiways we think of first but a building. A “terminal” building the Grand Haven Tribune calls it.
The expansion is 1,500 square feet of new space in the main airport building including a multipurpose room, handicap accessible restrooms, space dividers to make separate rooms and a kitchenette. The new space will be used by flight instructors, EAA Chapter 211 and others. The total cost of the project is $458,000.
Why is this spending on the airport greeted as good news by the local media and government officials when all I hear is a steady drumbeat from pilots that their airport is cutting back on spending, threatening to shut down, and doing everything to discourage flying? I don’t think there is one single answer why Grand Haven is different from many places, but let me try.
For more than 20 years I lived and flew in the New York City metropolitan environment. The situation there couldn’t have been more opposite. My home airport, Westchester County, battled in court for its life and nearly lost even though it is one of the most used business flying airports in the country. With somewhere north of 20 million people living in the area you barely needed to use both hands to count the number of airports available to GA.
New York is the extreme example of urbanization in our country, but the issues of big city versus small town are pretty much the same. In a big city available space and resources are used up. Life becomes a zero sum game. If your neighbor gets more space, is allowed to make more noise, or change his property in some way it directly impacts you. In a big city nothing can be changed without having consequences for somebody else. Expand an airport in any fashion and thousands will be affected in some way.
In small towns there is still space to grow. Yes, any change will impact others, but fewer than in a big city. And because the small town has fewer people and thus fewer competing opinions on how to move forward agreement is not easy and automatic, but at least possible.
Being able to agree on how to improve, grow and expand can do wonderful things for a small community. Because Grand Haven supports instead of fights its airport improvements it can get somebody else to pay for them. Only $23,000 of the $458,000 expansion project came from local funds, the rest being available from federal and state grants. Getting this kind of outside funding isn’t magic. The money is available. But it takes foresight by the local government and community support for a project to go get the money.
Another important asset of the Grand Haven Airport is EAA Chapter 211. The chapter is celebrating its 50th birthday this summer and has been very active in the Grand Haven community. Chapter 211 holds a number of events to welcome the public to the airport every year. And the community welcomes Chapter 211 which will be one of the primary regular users of the new expanded building on the airport. Again, no magic. Being part of a community is a two-way street.
And the local government works to integrate the airport into the rest of the community. For example, the new building will be available for any resident to reserve for a party or meeting. A baby shower was one example a government official offered for a possible use. The airport is not off limits to non-pilots and is available to all.
As for the airport itself Grand Haven is planning to trim trees growing into the approach paths, and to find the funds to repair and improve the hangars. The overall goal is to maintain and improve the airport and to spend any money the airport generates on the facility.
We are blessed with an abundance of airports of all sizes here in West Michigan and overall airports receive positive support from their local governments and communities. Having lived and flown on the East Coast of the U.S. and now on the east coast of Lake Michigan, there is no question which is best for pilots and airplane owners.
But, pilots being pilots, the only comment posted on the newspaper website about the airport expansion story was from an airplane owner calling the government names for not allowing him to build a hangar on the airport. One comment, it’s negative, and it’s from a pilot. Sometimes we don’t know how good our lives really are.