FLINT, MI – Now with about 800,000 travelers and handling more than 20 million pounds of cargo a year, Bishop International Airport celebrates its 90th year as the third largest airport in Michigan.
The airport has experienced massive growth from those early days and weathered merging airlines, airline bankruptcies, intense security measures, several recessions, and a decline in airline travel. Looking over a scale model created in the 1990s of airport leaders' vision for the facility, Airport Director Craig Williams notes how remarkably similar the airport today is to that vision that was developed 25 years ago.
“It’s not easy when you have all the variables thrown at you,” says Williams, who credits the master plan implemented by his predecessor, longtime Airport Director Jim Rice, for laying the airport’s foundation as a key partner for economic development in the community.
These days, Williams and his team are again developing a master plan for both the near and the distant future.
“I want people to associate Bishop Airport—not only as a place to go and travel from—I want them to associate us with being a good community economic partner,” says Williams.
Inside the airport there are 26 businesses, employing 575 workers. The airport also offers space for conferences and meetings available for the community to rent. Bishop hosts FedEx on the premises, providing nearly 250,000 square feet of space for administrative offices, storage, cargo ramp space and sorting.
Sitting on 1,550 acres, the airport is also able to entertain the idea of building new structures such as maintenance facilities or even storage for manufacturing businesses that take advantage of air cargo transportation.
“Our businesses benefit significantly because they can host customers and tourists,” says Janice Karcher, senior vice president of economic development for the Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce. “The evolution and improvements of the airport have been in lockstep with the advancement of the community and the diversity that has been taking place.”
The biggest hurdle while planning is accurately predict needs and adjusting to unforeseen obstacles.
Southwest Airlines announced last year that it would no longer offer flights from Bishop. The airline already had stopped service in most other mid-size airports nationwide—and airport officials expect it will result in 6 percent fewer passengers in 2018.
However, Williams notes that it also opens up the door for additional, long-term growth elsewhere at the airport. For instance, shortly after Southwest’s announcement, American Airlines revealed plans for a fourth flight daily to Chicago-O’Hare starting in May.
“No airport director is happy to see an airline leave. I think the opportunities presented by the Southwest departure will allow us to grow in ways that weren’t possible with Southwest here,” Williams says. “That growth may not be in the sense of the number of seats or large airplanes, but we think that growth will come through maybe more frequencies on our existing routes and some of our existing airlines.”
Similarly, Williams hopes to take advantage of the additional flights to markets served by Allegiant.
The airport sits at the crosshairs of I-69 and I-75 and is a key part of the area’s transportation infrastructure. Bishop Airport actively works with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and the I-69 International Trade Corridor. Bishop also offers a Foreign Trade Zone for international businesses to inspect, pack and transport goods.
“Communities benefit from having modern facilities and airports that can support the growth of airlines that may recognize a market opportunity but need a good airport partner. We are blessed as a community to have that,” says Karcher.
Again, Williams credits the planning and vision of his predecessors and the Bishop Airport Authority Board for seeing the airport’s—and the community’s—potential over the past 90 years and into the future.
“It’s important to stick with the plan and vision. Obviously people believe in the airport here, and I hope others in the community doing long-range planning feel emboldened and empowered with the (success) we’ve had here,” says Williams.
“It may not happen in five years. It may be ten years, it may be 20 years down the road. I want our organization to be ready for that next opportunity.”