Detroit City Airport Can Access $100M in Federal Grants with New Master Layout Plan

The city of Detroit today announced a new future for the Coleman A. Young International Airport following FAA approval of new Master Layout Plan, the first in 30 years.
485
Over the next 10 years, Detroit City Airport can use $100 million in federal grants to create a state-of-the-art airport. // File Photo
Over the next 10 years, Detroit City Airport can use $100 million in federal grants to create a state-of-the-art airport. // File Photo

The city of Detroit today announced a new future for the Coleman A. Young International Airport following FAA approval of new Master Layout Plan, the first in 30 years.

The plan approval unlocks an estimated $100 million in federal grants over the course of the next 10 years and will create a state-of-the-art airport, city officials say.

The approval follows nearly three years of drafting, community engagement, and FAA review. The new plan will allow the city to make transformational investment in the airport, including new hangars, a new control tower, improved taxiways and safety zone, new airport-related development opportunities, as well as the return of the Benjamin Davis Aerospace Academy to the airport grounds.

Davis, a four-star general, was the first African-American brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force. He also was commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airman.

Key highlights of the plan include:

  • Access to federal grant funding: The FAA approval unlocks more than $100 million in federal grant opportunities over the next 10 years. The city recently was awarded an initial grant of $111,000 from MDOT’s Aeronautics division for partial reimbursement of the cost of developing the airport layout plan.
  • New Aircraft Hangars: The city plans to build several new hangars at the airport that will include sufficient space for executive business aircraft, twin-engine craft, and smaller hangars for single engine planes. Hangars also will include community space for meetings and events. The work will begin immediately.
  • Return of Davis Aerospace Academy: This school, which relocated from Detroit City Airport several years ago, will return inside a renovated main airport terminal. This will bring the technical school back to an appropriate location that will provide direct access to aviation operations and activity. Estimated opening date is 2025.
  • New Air Traffic Control Tower: This new tower will be fully funded by the FAA as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. Site selection for the new tower will begin in early 2023, with design taking place in 2024. Construction complete is expected in early 2026
  • Improved safety zone: The airport also will make safety improvements to the airfield, including the installation of a new Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) at both ends of the main runway. This FAA-approved solution has been designed to compensate for the fact that the runway does not have the available real estate for standard 1,000-foot safety areas without impact the neighboring cemeteries.
  • Re-establishing onsite Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting Services: In 2012, just prior to the city’s bankruptcy, Engine 20 at the airport was decommissioned and firefighting responsibilities for the airport shifted to a nearby fire house. Last year, the city completed a renovation of Engine 20 on the grounds of Detroit City Airport. The renovated facility will allow for the training of additional firefighters and is expected to be partially reactivated in the next year or so.

For decades, the FAA has required the city to acquire property to the east of the airport because the current airport footprint does not provide a sufficient safety zone according to federal standards.

City officials recently met with residents in the “mini take” area west of the main runway to resume the land acquisition process. Property owners in the area are expected to begin receiving offers in the next month and city officials plan to have the acquisition process completed before the end of 2023.

In 1922, city officials conducted a search for an airport site, eventually settling on a 263-acre location near Conner Creek on the city’s east side. Five years later, the Detroit City Airport Terminal was formally dedicated, with the first aircraft landing at the airport on October 14, 1927.

In 1929, the first hangar, designed by noted architect Albert Kahn, was erected and by the 1930s Detroit City Airport was the premiere airport in the Detroit area. It remained Detroit’s primary airport until 1947 when almost all airlines transitioned their flights to Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti Township, followed by Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus.

Detroit City Airport transitioned into a center of pilot training and one of the most concentrated locations for private and corporate aviation in the country, though it still maintained some commercial flights until 2000.

In 2003, City Airport was officially renamed Coleman A. Young International Airport, after the city’s longest-serving mayor, who also was a Tuskegee Airman. The signage has never been changed accordingly, and will with the renovation plans, it will be.

Detroit City Airport remains home to many private and corporate jets. The airport saw an almost 40 percent increase in usage in 2017 with the increase in businesses downtown and the opening of Little Caesar’s Arena.

With the planned capital improvements, the airport is expected to generate additional take-offs and landings, without the need for a runway expansion. Because of the airport’s location next to Gethsemane Cemetery, the city of Detroit is unable to extend the primary runway safety zone to accommodate larger aircraft. With the recent growth of new forms of personal air transportation such as aerial taxies and cargo aircraft, the airport redevelopment will tap into the emerging market opportunities.