Battle Creek Unlimited (BCU) is pleased to announce that it has secured a $7 million appropriation in the 2024 state budget which was signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on July 31. The funds will support the development of an advanced air mobility park at the Battle Creek Executive Airport (BTL).
The park, which is to be called MICH-AIR, has been in the works since 2019 when BCU received a grant from the Michigan Defense Center to determine if Battle Creek would be an attractive location for drone companies looking to establish operations. The Battle Creek Executive Airport (BTL) is one of the busiest airports in the state. Its main runway measures 10,004 feet and is complemented by a parallel runway and a crosswind runway. The airport has approximately 200 acres of land available for development, ideal for drone operations.
BTL is home to aviation companies like Duncan Aviation, which operates a large aviation maintenance facility, and WACO Aerospace, which manufactures biplanes. Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation is based at BTL and offers degree programs in aircraft operations, aircraft maintenance, and airport operations. The airport is also home to the Michigan Air National Guard’s 110th Wing, which currently has a remote drone operation. The airport is adjacent to the Fort Custer Industrial Park, a 3,000-acre facility with nearly 90 companies and over 13,000 employees.
The advanced air mobility sector includes autonomous and remotely piloted aircraft (often referred to as drones) as well as electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. MICH-AIR will be the first facility of its kind in Michigan and serve as a hub for the advanced air mobility sector.
BCU will market the facility as a site for drone manufacture, operations, maintenance & repair, and drone training, as well as for urban air mobility. The $7 million will be used to upgrade the airspace surveillance system at BTL, in preparation for increased traffic from autonomous and remotely piloted aircraft. BCU has already invested approximately $3 million in the MICH-AIR project, which includes site preparation, land acquisition for a new entrance, engineering plans, and environmental analysis.
“MICH-AIR will put Battle Creek and Michigan at forefront of the advanced air mobility sector,” said BCU President & CEO Joe Sobieralski. “This industry is rapidly expanding, and this project will have a transformative impact on our community. It will bring a new, high-tech industry to Battle Creek which will create hundreds of high-paying jobs. We are grateful to Gov. Whitmer and the Michigan State Legislature for their support. We especially appreciate Rep. Jim Haadsma’s efforts to get this project funded. This would not have been possible without Jim’s leadership.”
While MICH-AIR is informally referred to as a drone park, Sobieralski noted that is important to make the distinction between the small drones flown for personal recreation use and the large autonomous and remotely piloted aircraft that are currently being developed. “At MICH-AIR, we will be targeting large aviation and defense manufacturers, which are developing next generation aircraft. These could be used for transportation, cargo delivery, border surveillance, spraying crops, or firefighting. There are all kinds of applications, for both civilian and military use. Our goal is for MICH-AIR to be a leader in the emerging sector.”
According to Fortune Business Insights, the global commercial drone market is projected to grow from $2.3 billion in 2021 to $11.2 billion by 2028. The state of Michigan is working to grow its aerospace industry, especially in the emerging unmanned aerial systems (UAS) sector. The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is currently partnering with the Canadian province of Ontario on a feasibility study to explore opportunities for commercial applications of drones.