Soaring: New general aviation terminal opens at Chippewa County International Airport

Air charter passengers and pilots flying to the eastern Upper Peninsula now arrive to a “warm welcome,” thanks to a new, state-of-the-art general aviation terminal at Chippewa County International Airport (CIU).

More than a decade in the making, the new $6.5 million terminal opened this fall to serve general aviation needs, including charter flights and air couriers. Air charter service is used by business people and families vacationing in the Les Cheneaux Islands, Mackinac Island and eastern parts of the U.P. The Chippewa airport is about 15 miles south of Sault Ste. Marie, and 16 miles from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, making CIU an international airport of entry for international passengers as well. 

“The new terminal has plenty of room for large groups to gather before departing,” says Tami Beseau, the airport manager. “The building is elevated so you can see the airfield and airplanes landing. “It’s a very welcoming building that I believe pilots and passengers alike will be anxious to see, and excited to return.”

What’s happened: A new general aviation terminal opened at Chippewa County International Airport in the eastern Upper Peninsula. The new terminal replaces a former military (weather ops) building, built by the military just prior to the closure of Kincheloe Air Force Base in 1977.  The former weather building served as the general aviation terminal for about 30 years. The building was divided into multiple small rooms and had been updated over the years but no longer met the needs of the airport.

The terminal: The new one-and-a-half story terminal replaces a 10,000-square-foot structure, the last remaining building from the former base, which served the country during the Cold War and was constructed in 1943. The new building sits on the same footprint but offers a more modern and spacious surrounding for private and charter pilots. The first floor offers seating for air charter passengers, vending area, kitchenette, pilot lounge, flight planning area, and aircraft refueling offices. The second floor features a conference room, offices  for airport management, and the Chippewa County Economic Development Corp., which oversees the airport.

The new waiting area at the General Aviation Terminal at Chippewa County International Airport.

The new GA terminal also  boasts state-of-the-art technology to accommodate online meetings, conference calls and computerized presentations. “Covid showed all U.P. businesses how far behind we were in technology when people were reaching out to us and asking us to have ‘zoom’ or ‘teams’ meetings,” instead of in-person meetings, Beseau says. “We no longer have that problem.”  

New to the building footprint is a separate entrance and hold area for international travelers. The airport serves as an “airport of entry” for international flights; U.S. Customs clear aircraft and passengers, similar to the process on the International Bridge. “When they arrive, international passengers may be allowed to depart the aircraft if customs isn’t on site when they arrive,” Beseau says. 

Who does the terminal serve: The general aviation terminal provides service to single-engine aircraft, and up to 100 passenger jets. Air charter allows passengers to set their own schedule and allows groups and families to travel together. Many families fly Air Charter when traveling to and from their summer homes on Les Cheneaux Islands, Mackinac Island or other beautiful areas of the eastern Upper Peninsula. 

CIU is also a commercial service airport.  Service is provided by Skywest Airlines, a Delta Connection carrier, currently offering daily non-stop service to Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Minneapolis-St. Paul.  The terminal serves about 50,000 passengers a year. 

The general aviation terminal also serves FedEx and UPS, which provide air cargo services to the eastern Upper Peninsula five days a week. 

Where did funding come from: The CCEDC/CIU received a $5.2 million federal grant for the project from the Federal Aviation Administration Supplemental Airport Improvement Program, as well as funding from Chippewa County Economic Development Corp., which manages the airport.

What’s ahead: Safety and security projects are continuous at the airport.  This year the airport improved runway lighting to LED on runway 16/34.  Last year the airport paved its crosswind runway 10/28, and next year the plan is to rehabilitate commercial service taxiway A.  

What they’re saying: “This infrastructure investment is another key project to help our community expand its reach both domestically and internationally,” says Chris Olson, president of the Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation.  “This project will ultimately strengthen the county’s competitive position and help build capacity that will generate economic opportunity for the region”   
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