Airport Bids Farewell To Its Namesake

January 8, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The planning for the arrival of Gerald R. Ford’s remains started years ago at Ford International Airport. The plan launched Dec. 26 with immediate and extensive communication and coordination efforts between local, state and federal agencies that continued through Thursday.

“Carrying out the plan was a significant undertaking, but it went very, very well,” said airport spokesman Bruce Schedlbauer.

“It was our effort to ensure that we had a proper and seamless arrival for the president, his family members, dignitaries and other visitors,” Schedlbauer said. “So we joined both local and federal agencies and put on a united effort.”

Military and law enforcement personnel, the Federal Aviation Administration and advance teams worked hand-in-hand with airport staff. There was a 50-minute halt to all aircraft departures and arrivals Tuesday from the time the 747 carrying the president’s casket was inbound to the airport to the time the motorcade exited airport property. All vehicular traffic activity was halted in that interim, as well, Schedlbauer said. The same procedure was followed Wednesday when Vice President Dick Cheney arrived on Air Force II.

Private aircraft activity at Ford International increased slightly last week as dignitaries and honorary guests such as Jack Nicklaus flew into town for the funeral, but control tower manager Jim Munslow said it didn’t seem much busier than a typical day at Ford International and that he wouldn’t have a tally until the end of the week.

Airport police did put in some overtime in the preparation for and execution of the arrival ceremony, but the cost to the airport was not significant, Schedlbauer said.

Ford International has welcomed U.S. presidents and vice presidents in the past, but to Schedlbauer’s knowledge, there has never been an event that rivaled Ford’s state funeral in terms of the national attention and publicity it brought to the airport.

“There are a lot of things that have contributed to raising the stature of Grand Rapids and West Michigan over the years, and certainly one of those things — from the airport’s standpoint — has been the privilege of bearing the name of the 38th president of the United States,” he remarked. “It was certainly an honor to play a role in the final and heartfelt welcome home for the president.”   

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