By STEPHANIE RAUHE
Capital News Service
LANSING – At a time when local airports were transitioning from private to public ownership, some were in danger of closing for a variety of reasons, including financial problems and alternative uses for the land.
As a result, the Department of Transportation purchased several airports over 20 years ago with a mix of state and federal funding, according to the department.
They are Romeo State Airport east of Romeo in Macomb County,Canton-Plymouth Mettetal Airport in Wayne County’s Canton Township, Linden Airport in Genesee County’s Fenton Township and Houghton Lake State Airport in Roscommon County’s Roscommon Township.
All airports are now financially self-sufficient.
“Because those airports were a part of a statewide system, the state invested some resources into preserving them,” said Bryan Budds, the deputy administrator of MDOT’s Office of Aeronautics.
Three of them, Romeo, Canton-Plymouth and Linden, have paved runways, while the Houghton airport has a limited-use turf runway, according to the department.
A 2019 memorandum from the House Fiscal Agency said the department purchased the privately owned Plymouth-Canton airport in 1995 for $4.1 million when it was intended to be sold and converted for other purposes.
The Romeo airport was purchased in 1998 for $5.1 million because no other buyers were interested in keeping it as an airport. The Linden airport was also in danger of being sold, and the department purchased it in 2001 for $1million.
The Houghton airport is managed under contract with Roscommon Township, which carries the costs of operation and maintenance.
“They all operate in a little different manner under contract with contract airport managers,” Budds said. “The management arrangements are a little different, but they are all generating revenue.”
The department does not provide operating assistance, according to the memorandum.
“All of the resources generated at the airports stay there for ongoing maintenance or capital improvements,” Budds said. “They are generating revenue that is invested back into the airport to support the facility.”
The Michigan Aviation System Plan, which is part of the department’s aeronautics program, was crucial for purchasing the airports.
“At the time, they fit in specific geographic categories,” Budds said. “If they would have closed, there would be a lack of better available aviation infrastructure.”
While the department is discussing possibly transitioning ownership of the airports to the counties, it wants to ensure they remain as functioning public-use airports.