Oakland County International Airport (OCIA) is at 90 years and counting, honoring the past while planning for the future.
“The history of the airport goes back to 1929, when it was owned by the city of Pontiac,” says J. David VanderVeen, director of central services for Oakland County. “There were a lot of forward-looking people in those days. Pontiac was the center for the horseless carriage, and aviation was in its infancy.”
When the government began to regulate airports and air safety, OCIA became the first licensed airport in the nation. Eventually, ownership transferred from Pontiac to Oakland County, beginning the second phase of the airport’s growth and development.
In the early ’90s, OCIA became the first airport in the state to install a fuel-water separator, ensuring only clean water was returned to the ground stream. Between 1999 and 2010, noise-reduction efforts were implemented. In 2011, a new LEED-certified terminal was built — the first general aviation terminal in the nation to receive the certification.
Today, a half-million passengers and pilots pass through OCIA each year, making it the second-busiest general aviation airport in Michigan.
Meanwhile, the growth of Corporate Eagle, an aviation service allowing companies to buy a share of a private airplane, reflects the airport’s business focus. Serving the area since 1982, the company recently completed a new 77,000-square-foot headquarters to better serve its 46 members.
“It used to be corporations had their own airplanes and flight department,” says Corporate Eagle CEO Rick Nini. “Now it’s more efficient and more acceptable to buy or lease a quarter share of one. The new facility enables us to add larger aircraft.”
In fact, nearly every Fortune 500 company uses the airport each year, VanderVeen says.
“We had estimated our economic impact at $175 million each year, but when the state did a study, we found out we were wrong,” he says. “They estimate our impact at $600 million a year.
“Oakland County International Airport is important to the area and to the state.”
This article originally appeared in the 2020 edition of Oakland County Prosper magazine.