GRFIA Joins Suit Against Northwest

June 30, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Since exiting bankruptcy, several airlines that were former tenants of the GeraldR.FordInternationalAirport have repaid the airport only a fraction of what they owed. The largest debtor, Northwest Airlines, is still in arrears to Ford International for some $500,000.

The Kent County Aeronautics Board decided to try to recoup some of that by entering the airport into a joint litigation agreement last week with 18 other airports being represented by Foley & Lardner LLP of Orlando. Ford International's claim against Northwest is the second largest in the bunch. 

Delta Airlines owes the airport, as well, but Brian Picardat, airport director of finance and administration, said staff is not recommending that the airport pursue a case against Delta at this time.

Picardat said since Northwest exited bankruptcy the airport has received only pennies on the dollar of what was owed. It will cost the airport approximately $3,000 a month for legal representation, he said, explaining that one-third of the monthly bill would be divided equally among the 18 plaintiffs, and that the remaining two-thirds would be divided up based on the weighting of the size of each airport's claim. 

Upon the suggestion of Commissioner Daniel Koorndyk, the board agreed to revisit the airport's continuing involvement in the lawsuit when legal fees reached the $40,000 mark.

Also on Wednesday, the aeronautics board authorized airport staff to submit an application for funding assistance to the Department of Homeland Security for an expansion of the terminal that would accommodate relocation of the passenger ticketing and baggage claim areas. In a report submitted to board members last week, HNTB evaluated various conceptual design alternatives for expansion of the terminal and relocation of the ticketing and baggage screening functions.

Aeronautics Director James Koslosky said the current ticketing and baggage-screening set-up in the airport lobby is an "interim installation" put in place in 2002 when the airport was tapped by the Transportation Security Administration to pilot the then-new Explosive Detection Systems for baggage screening. The operation limited space and has resulted in congestion in the lobby area.

The expansion and relocation project would cost between $20 million to $30 million, Koslosky said, but he said the airport's position is not to move ahead before the federal government makes funding available. He expects Congress will create the funding source over the next three to four years.    

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