From the files of Bob Malkas: How Lansing acquired ownership of the airport

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Local Voices

Bob Malkas

During the writing of these articles, I was reminded that I have access to the only known library of documents related to how Lansing acquired ownership of the Lansing Municipal Airport, with the possible exception of the Lansing Historical Society.

Over the last 30-plus years the Village has adopted the idea that the historic Ford Hangar is a symbol of the Village of Lansing. It has neglected to say that the Ford Hanger would not be in existence today without it being a part of the Historic Chicago-Hammond Airport, soon to become the Lansing Municipal Airport.

The airport was built by Henry Ford in 1926 in the early days of the history of aviation in the Chicagoland area. Ford paid $1 million for the 1.446 acres of land. This was three times the value of surrounding farm land. He built the airport for the purpose of transporting goods to his growing automobile factories in Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland. That system in itself was historic because it was the first commercial airline devoted exclusively to transporting parts and equipment within one organization.

Although the Ford Company never made its intensions for further Lansing development known to the public, many speculated that Ford was going to build a factory near the airport that would have employed thousands of people. Ford sold his airport in 1933. The speculation was that the decision was dictated by the current depressed economy and the flying fatality of one of Ford’s close friends.

For a period of time the airport was the base for various businesses, flying clubs, and schools. One of those was the University of Chicago that in 1940 used it for training naval pilots.

When the Village decided to purchase what was left of Ford’s initial holdings only 100-acres remained. It was then believed and reported that if the Village had not accepted responsibility for the airport, the owner was entertaining offers from a low-cost housing developer.

I can relate this story now because it was taught to me by Harold Christian, who had been spearheading the Lansing effort to have the Ford Hangar recognized as a National Historical Place. It was then understood that with a public sponsor like the Village, the airport would be in a position to apply for funding from federal- and state-endorsed programs. Understanding this, the next move by the Village was to enter into a purchase agreement to buy the airport at an agreed price of $1.75 million. This price was not determined by an official appraisal at the time, and this would become a problem that the airport would have to deal with later.

The details of the purchase agreement stipulated that time would be allowed for the Village to apply for the funding to be secured. The Village would be required to pay interest to the owner until final payment was made, and that too would become a problem. That annual interest was $87,000 dollars.

It was not understood at that time that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could only fund airport projects that did not comply with its established funding guidelines. In Lansing’s case it would have to support the purchase price by an authorized appraisal.

A second problem was that the airport did not have clear title to the land south of the east-west runway, which violated the FAA clear zone requirements. Funding could not be released until both problems were corrected. That would delay finalizing the provisions of the purchase agreement and force the continued payment of interest.

It was then that the McNary administration appealed to the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for help. The State, realizing the airport’s situation, did respond and indicated willingness to deal with the Lansing situation. In a letter from the Director of IDOT it was proposed that the State and Lansing enter into a partnership that would serve to preserve the airport.

One paragraph from the April 15, 1977, letter to Mayor McNary explains the details in the proposal:

“The Illinois Secretary of Transportation will enter into an agreement with the City of Lansing which will help assure the acquisition of this airport by the City. In recognition of the unique situation and effort on the part of the City, the State is prepared to advance $80,000 as soon as possible to the city to ease the local burden imposed by the delayed review of the Application for Federal Assistance. This amount represents the normal State’s share of federally assisted airport development projects. The State is also prepared to advance the Federal share for the airport purchase should such advance be necessary to preserve the services provided by the Lansing Airport.”

In effect, Illinois was loaning the Village of Lansing the money to finalize the agreement with the seller to eliminate the interest payments and would wait to be reimbursed until the funding was released.

That ends a full chapter of the history of how Lansing acquired ownership of the airport. The next chapter would explain how Lansing moved to understand how to comply with the federal guidelines to continue its master plan for future airport development. With their guidance, the Lansing Municipal Airport would be awarded over $30 million to help it continue its purpose of promoting aviation service for the country.

Bob Malkas


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5 COMMENTS

    • Thank you for your comment.
      Yes, Harold was a music and band director at TFN and later at TFS, for 22 years. He took an early retirement in 1964.

  1. From what I understand from talking to a lot of people nobody at the airport knows what they are doing ! I believe we still need a full time manager that knows about airport and aviation ! We need maintenance people that know how to take care of it and able to fix things . Lansings budget for the airport has a lot to e desired ! It is more of a burden to the village without these things . If Lansing wants the Banquet hall keep the ford hanger and sell the rest to someone that knows airport business in functions ! You are missed Mr.Bob Malkis ! You can only do with what you are given in a budget ! Airport has always seemed to be at the bottom of that list !

  2. I am writing a book about the airport that addresses many of these questions. A draft of Part 1 is at the printer and I will make it available to you when ready. Watch for it. I will try to get the word out when it is ready.

  3. What was the date of the airport purchase?

    I appreciate the information on the airport’s history. Being a tenant (oops, I mean license holder lol) for nearly 17 years I like to learn more about my home base.

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