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Posted on Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Changes ahead for Willow Run Airport: Runway expansion in 10-year, $182M plan

By Amy Biolchini


The view from the old control tower Tuesday of the Willow Run Airport on the border of Ypsilanti and Van Buren townships. The airport is planning to reconstruct and reconfigure its 70-year-old runways -- built for WWII bombers -- over the next 10 years.

Daniel Brenner |

Willow Run Airport on the Ypsilanti Township border will be seeking $182 million in changes to its runways and infrastructure throughout the next 10 years, provided airport authorities attract the grant money they need to make the projects possible.

“Willow Run’s at a crossroads,” said Sean Brosnan, director of the Willow Run Airport.

Brosnan presented the 10-year plan for the airport in front of an audience of U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., Washtenaw County officials and key economic development players including representatives from Ann Arbor SPARK and the Detroit Region Aerotropolis.

“We have here a tremendous potential asset -- or a group of assets; One of which is, of course, the airport facility itself,” Dingell said.

The upgrades will be important as the airport is being used as a marketing tool to attract developers to the adjacent former General Motors Willow Run plant and the Aerotropolis region between Willow Run and Detroit Metro airports.

The future of the airport is vitally important to Ypsilanti Township because of the kinds of new businesses it could bring in to the area, said Washtenaw County Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr., D-Ypsilanti Township. Cargo businesses located at the airport include Kalitta Air, USA Jet, Ameristar Jet Charter, Active Aero and National Airlines.


Sean Brosnan, director of the Willow Run Airport, speaks to a group of officials working in Washtenaw and Wayne counties Tuesday at a boardroom in the former GM plant.

Daniel Brenner |

“The airport is marketed as a part of the package,” said Patricia Spitzley, deputy redevelopment manager of the GM-spinoff firm RACER Trust in charge of marketing the property to developers. “The fate of the airport can impact our ability to successfully market.”

The first phase of construction has received funding from the Federal Aviation Administration: An $18 million grant has been allocated to reconstructing the northern half of its main, 7,525-foot-long runway.

Together with a 5 percent match from the state of Michigan and a 5 percent match from the Wayne County Airport Authority, the $20 million project is the first step in an overhaul the airport plans for its aging facilities. Construction is slated to begin in May, and last through Nov. 15.

To completely reconstruct the main runway, an additional $23 million is needed. Brosnan said the airport is “shovel ready” to reconstruct the southern half of the main runway should they be awarded additional grant funding.

This year, Willow Run Airport also will be upgrading its precision-aided pilot instrumentation systems on the runway parallel to its main runway to accommodate the plane traffic during construction.

Throughout the next 10 years, the airport is planning to add taxiways to make the airport more efficient for planes to use.

“The previous congressmen who represented this area didn’t want to extend the runways - which may be a component of making this a workable air transport facility,” Dingell said, adding in regards to the federal budget sequester: “This is all going to cost a lot of money that’s being hurt by the awful mess that we have in Washington.”

The runway on the north side of the airport that runs parallel to Ecorse Road will be reconstructed about three years before it is extended from 7,200 feet to 9,550 feet long, Brosnan said.

The extension is slated to happen in 2023, according to the airport’s 10-year plan.

The runway expansion will be a significant change in the kinds of capabilities Willow Run Airport is able to offer its clients in the cargo business, Brosnan said.

“This will allow us to go anywhere in the world with freight,” Brosnan said.

Brosnan said the issue some larger planes have now is that they can’t take off from Willow Run Airport fully loaded with both cargo and fuel - and so a second stop is required before the plane embarks for its final destination.

A 747 can take off from the Willow Run Airport now, Brosnan said, but it can’t take off fully loaded.

The Willow Run Airport was built in World War II in conjunction with the adjacent and now vacant B-24 bomber plant that was last used by GM. It straddles the border of Ypsilanti and Van Buren townships, and sees 70,000 operations per year.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va. is one-third of the land mass of the 2,500-acre Willow Run Airport space, Brosnan said.

Within the airport itself, about 170 acres are used to grow soybeans for use in biofuels, Brosnan said. With the removal of some of the old concrete pavement on the site that is no longer needed, an additional 300 acres will be turned into fields of soybeans.


Private jets stored inside Hangar 1 at the Willow Run Airport.

Daniel Brenner |

The airport is intended to be a relief airport from Detroit Metro Airport, and mostly handles cargo planes and private jets.

Many cargo planes flying in to the Willow Run Airport that make use of the 24-hour FAA tower are bringing in spare parts to the Big 3 automakers so that they don’t have to shut down production.

“We’re an air ambulance for the automotive industry,” Brosnan said.

The airport’s runways are all 70 years old, as are the main hangars. Hangar 1 is about 60 percent to 70 percent occupied with corporate jets, Brosnan said.

In the southwest corner of the property, Hangar 2 is a vacant 200,000-square-foot building that would need serious upgrades to be operational, Brosnan said.

The airport plans to demolish Hangar 2 in 2014 and later build an engine repair and maintenance yard that's more cost efficient to operate, Brosnan said.

“That space will be vital in our rebirth,” Brosnan said.

The plan also includes two new hangars for the Yankee Air Museum to store their flyable planes, Brosnan said.

About 320 acres of undeveloped land the airport owns on the north side of Ecorse Road just west of Belleville Road is available for a private development, Brosnan said.

It’s being marketed by the airport, SPARK and Aerotropolis to investors as useful for a research, manufacturing or warehouse complex -- similar to the way the former five-million-square foot vacant GM plant adjacent to the airport is being marketed by its owner, the RACER Trust.

Brosnan acknowledged the similarities, noting, “One of the advantages the GM site has is that it has road infrastructure, water lines … but, some developers would rather have green sites.”


Areas of the Willow Run Airport that authorities want to see develop during the next 10 years.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Thu, Apr 4, 2013 : 2:22 p.m.

Ross. Expanding an airport is NEVER a "good thing" for the community surrounding the airport and / or quality of life. Folks leave, tax revenue decline and the vicious cycle begins. That is why communities should strive to direct larger aircraft to an EXISTING larger airport rather than destroy their own quality of life and community. The ONLY folks benefiting from longer runways are the aircraft operators. They can load more payload and more fuel. Improving the existing facilities in Willow IS a good thing. Expanding the runway, NOT a good thing for Ypsilanti and the surrounding cities.


Wed, Apr 3, 2013 : 2:35 a.m.

Personally my home is visable in the picture above(lower left corner between i-94 and the business loop) and ive lived here for 2 years and never had any issues with excessive noise even during the air show


Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 5:21 p.m.

Oh, cripes. I started reading this article thinking this was generally a good thing. But I live in depot town now, and soon will live just a mile north of Ypsi. Expanding runways to accommodate fully loaded 747s.... TERRIBLE! ARG! boooo


Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 1:37 a.m.

I work at the Willow Run in the main building and I know that Baltia of New York is moving in. I have seen one employee but only once and see there name plates on offices being remodeled. Any news on Baltia's move to Willow Run?


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 11:01 p.m.

As i said on another post. They plan to redevelop the old GM plant and now plan to redevelop the runway? With the cut backs to the control tower I can't wait to see mishaps in all directions. This has not been thought thru very well. Good luck and glad I don't live near there.


Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 4:53 a.m.

The tower cutbacks are simply 'proposed' cutbacks. There is nothing official on closing the midnight shift. If they did close it I imagine it would be for a short period of time.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 7:56 p.m.

Robert. Ya, it is possible... In theory ARB has one. Reality is however that 95% of ARB departures totally ignore the procedure. Most just fly straight out or to first en rout fix. Noise is not even a remote consideration for them. That said, procedure or not. I would NOT want to live near an airport with 747 traffic and 10,000' runway. It will be interesting to see how AA reacts to this once they start overflying Buhr park and the downtown area.

Anthony Clark

Thu, Apr 4, 2013 : 3:19 p.m.

On the light piston single engine airplanes, reducing power during climb is neither safe nor helpful in reducing noise. We need full power in order to climb. The best way to reduce noise for those on the ground is to put distance between you and them quickly. Reducing power shortly after takeoff only prolongs the noise as it takes me longer to gain altitude and distance. On more powerful singles and twins, there is some amount of power reduction that can be done. Whether that significantly reduces noise is debatable. Again, it mostly prolongs the time that they are in the area producing noise. The published noise abatement procedure for ARB can be flown by aircraft departing under visual flight rules when the tower is closed. Instrument departures must follow the publish instrument departure procedure. VFR departures during tower hours must comply with air traffic control instructions.

Chris Gordon

Wed, Apr 3, 2013 : 3:54 p.m.

Ann Arbor Municipal Airport noise abatement procedures: National Business Aviation Association noise abatement program for jet aircraft: Pilots reduce power settings on both jet and propeller aircraft once reaching a safe altitude on departure to reduce the noise footprint and improve visibility over the nose regardless of their direction of flight.

Anthony Clark

Wed, Apr 3, 2013 : 3:48 a.m.

During the hours that the tower is open, 100% of pilots comply with air traffic control directives. ARB is surrounded by homes that were built too close to the airport. It is impossible to avoid flying over them. Many pilots, myself included, really do make an attempt to mitigate our impact as much as possible. I love airplane noise, but I know that not everyone does. When doing pattern work, I vary the location of my turns to avoid repeatedly flying over the same house. I learned this courtesy from my first flight instructor. As far as aircraft departing from Willow Run - by the time they reach Ann Arbor, they are so high as to not be distinguishable from jets flying over that departed Chicago or New York or anywhere else.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 6:40 p.m.

It is possible to establish noise-abatement departure procedures. One should not assume the airplanes fly straight out from a new runway.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 5:21 p.m.

RUKiddingMe. Yes, Kalitta flies 747 out of Willow Run, but as the article says, NOT as heavy as they could be with a longer runway. Speaking of WASTING tax dollars...Have you seen the proposal to expand Ann Arbor airport (Which BTW, is not in AA proper...of course.) and the near $ 2,000,000 annually the Gov spends on operating their tower for C152 takeoffs and landings practice ? YOUR tax dollars in action. Again, communities around existing airports today, have adopt the airport, so to speak, AS IS. They exist in harmony with that airport. Once you EXPAND the airport, you WILL kill the surrounding communities. Hence eliminate tax dollars to schools, cities, the works ! You want to live near where fully loaded 747s operate ? Drive on Eureka Rd south of DTW. There is already a place for fully loaded 747s: DTW.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 4:41 p.m.

Has a 747 EVER landed OR taken off from that airport? Ever? "It straddles the border of Ypsilanti and Van Buren townships, and sees 70,000 operations per year" What's an operation? A landing? A takeoff? A sewage pump? A crackers refill? Maybe there are a lot of numbers to refute my perception, but I don't see this as a busy airport that needs expanding. "We have here a tremendous potential asset -- or a group of assets; One of which is, of course, the airport facility itself," Dingell said." This is just more of the same tax-wasting crap that I simply cannot believe all these people get away with all the time. "This will have been a great idea once we have spent millions and millions of dollars." Where's the ACTUAL REAL NEED here? All I see is this "built it and they will come" crap that is CONSTANTLY draining away our money. WASTE! WASTE! WASTE!

Anthony Clark

Wed, Apr 3, 2013 : 3:35 a.m.

Zeeba, you are grossly misinformed. Traffic at Willow Run is much lower now than it was 20 years ago. Willow Run was a major freight hub for the automotive and other manufacturing industries in the area from the end of WWII up until the economy tanked in 2001. Operations (an operation is a takeoff or landing) averaged 150,000 a year and went as high as 168,000 in 1998 or 1999. I used to see Lockheed Electras, 707s, and DC-8s taking off over my apartment (yes, Lake in the Woods) every 10 minutes. Now you can stand out there for hours and only see a few departures.


Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 4:49 a.m.

747's every week. The idea is to relieve DTW from cargo traffic and push towards mainly passenger. The need is there.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 10:54 p.m.

tdw - but not in this volume. Jet traffic was down to a trickle for a long time before the revival some 20 years ago. They were about to close the place.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 9:48 p.m.

zeeba....they've landing jets there for as long as I can remember and I'm 50


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 8:10 p.m.

tdw - the airport has been there since WWII but only within the last 15-20 years has it begun to be used for extensive jet traffic - coinciding with that area's decline. Willow Run was getting little use and was on the verge of closing when it was revived as a freight and business jet hub back in the early 90s - which is what increased the jet traffic. Kyle - the golf course closed about 5-6 years ago. It was still open when I lived there in 2001-02, but was in pretty rough shape. After it closed, parts were converted to a frisbee golf course, but I don't know if they still maintain it or not. I haven't been over there in some time.

Kyle Mattson

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 6:22 p.m.

Thanks for that insight on the Lake in the Woods area tdw, I was recently looking at that area on Gmaps and wondering about the golf course that obviously used to be there and is no longer.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 6 p.m.

zeeba...the airport has nothing to do with that area being run down.The airport has been there for about 60 yrs.It started going down hill when the auto companies left.Lake in the Woods residents included Base Ball players,Foot Ball players from Detroit ( pro's ) during the season, wealthy retirees and people who had money.It was " the " place to live.And up until about 15or 20 years ago it had it's own golf course and ( I think ) 5 pools.When everyone left the management company started taking section 8 and down it went


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 5:17 p.m.

Yes, they do. I saw a few during the year I lived in Lake of the Wood, on Ford Lake 2 miles from the end of the current main runway. Hear them too. Let's just say that year was quite an education in the impacts of an airport on surrounding areas. Why do you think that part of Grove Street is so run-down these days?


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 3:56 p.m.

Zeeba: >>So the East-West runway is going to become the main one, handling fully loaded 747s on a frequent basis? I'm sure Depot Town will appreciate that,<< Lets not forget that the fine city of Ann Arbor is next in the flight path of a westerly departure...This East -West runway expansion plan, should concern EVERY AA resident as well. In my opinion "fully loaded 747s" should fly in -out of DTW where the surrounding neighborhood have ALREADY paid the price, rather than force other cities to an airport expansion decline mode. Expanding any airport, IS a double edge sward when it comes to "economic benefit" for the surrounding areas.

Nicholas Urfe

Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

You have no idea, Bob. They are heavily loaded cargo planes. Loud.

Basic Bob

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 9:32 p.m.

i doubt ann arbor will be ruined by planes occasionally taking off 8-10 miles away.

Nicholas Urfe

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 3:23 p.m.

Why shouldn't it be paid for by the users, via "landing" and use fees? Why should taxpayers fund this?


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 5:28 p.m.

The federal money comes from landing fees and fuel taxes on aviation fuel. So the users are paying for it.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 2:39 p.m.

One more reason the Ann Arbor Airport does not need to be expanded.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 2:01 p.m.

What does this mean? "The previous congressmen who represented this year didn't want to extend the runways - which may be a component of making this a workable air transport facility," Dingell said" Did you incorrectly transcribe this sentence or did our Congressman actually say this?

Basic Bob

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 9:30 p.m.

dingell picked this up after the 2000 census


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 7:47 p.m.

Hasn't a Dingell been representing this area for the past 80 or so years, give or take odd rezoning in the past? So is he blaming his dad for not making this a priority back in the great depression?

Amy Biolchini

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 5:33 p.m.

Thank you for pointing that out. It the Congressman said "area." It's been corrected.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 1 p.m.

So the East-West runway is going to become the main one, handling fully loaded 747s on a frequent basis? I'm sure Depot Town will appreciate that, not to mention all the Ypsilanti neighborhoods and the ones of Belleville North. A few more years and I'm sure you'll be able to pick up some of those $275,000 homes between Belleville Rd. and Hagerty for $125,000.


Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 4:46 a.m.

Extending 27/9 is very doubtful. You can't land that runway with large aircraft due to arrival/departures at DTW. This is ill advised and mostly a pipe dream.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 11:04 p.m.

All this will be to us is like if it was Thunder Over Michigan day. But all the time. You get use to it and move on. I am very concerned though over the control tower cut backs.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

correction - make that the Grove St. neighborhoods southwest of WR.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 5:15 p.m.

no flamers - Look at a map. The approaches to the current main runway are far less densely developed than those of the E-W runway, which is currently lightly used and points directly at the nearby heart of Ypsi. The neighorhoods SE of Willow Run along Grove Rd. have seriously deteriorated since WR was revived as a jet hub. Extending the E-W runway for heavy traffic will turn an already-struggling community into a ghost town - count on it.

John of Saline

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

ahi, that might be a zoning issue.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 2:02 p.m.

If it brings jobs you can park a 747 in my driveway.

no flamers!

Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 1:29 p.m.

Every flight that departs the east/west runway is a flight that does not depart on the southwest/northeast runway, saving the residents under those flight paths from noise pollution. No one wants to be under a low altitute flight plan.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 10:35 a.m.

How about getting customs 24/7 so we don't have to go to DTW on the weekends and then burn 500 or more gallons of fuel to finish the trip up when we have to hop over 7 miles to Willow Run? 5R/23L has a couple of rough spots since they redid some lighting a few years back, glad to see they are addressing it.


Wed, Apr 3, 2013 : 1:17 a.m.

With prior notice. Which no freight trip can ever give.


Tue, Apr 2, 2013 : 4:44 a.m.

Customs is currently 24/7 and 7 days a week at YIP. Has been for over 4 years as far as I know.


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 12:37 p.m.

Sorry pilot I clicked on the wrong article ( I figured you already knew that )


Mon, Apr 1, 2013 : 12:16 p.m.

a2pilot....that would be the airport not the plant.The plant is in Washtenaw county the airport is in Wayne county.( the planes were built in Washtenaw and as soon as they left the door they were in Wayne )