WKAR Features
8:39 am
Tue May 26, 2009

Capital Region International Airport opens permanent customs facility

Lansing, MI – Lansing, MI (WKAR) - The Capital Region International Airport in Lansing has completed a major expansion. Today, the airport is opening the permanent headquarters of its U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Station.

The $4.3 million facility will process cargo and passengers arriving from and departing on international flights.

The catch is, Lansing has no international commercial flights yet. But officials believe the new facility will encourage regional businesses to tap into more export markets and expand their reach across the U.S.

When the Capital City Airport changed its name to the Capital Region International Airport last May, it put the aviation world on notice that it was clearing for takeoff.

Over the last year, the airport has been steadily working to shift the "international" part of its new name from wishful thinking to concrete reality.

Or rather, concrete and asphalt. In 2008, the airport finished a 1,500-foot extension of its primary runway. That extra length allows planes to carry more fuel and weight on takeoff...enabling them to fly greater distances.

The runway project is one piece of a strategy to enhance the airport's global chops. What's happening today is another.

"It's going to open the door to a whole new world. Literally."

Airport authority executive director Robert Selig is talking about the new customs inspection station that he'll help cut the ribbon on later this morning. The airport opened a temporary checkpoint last June to process 20 passengers per incoming international corporate flight. The permanent station can handle 10 times that amount every hour.

"What we're really hoping it does is that it stimulates the entire region; the businesses in the entire region to start thinking global and to check their business plans to see if they ought to make an international component of their business as well, just like the airport has done," Selig says.

The customs station fits into the airport's marketing campaign, known as "Port Lansing." The facility wants to position itself as a nimble regional terminal that can receive and ship cargo much faster than the giant hubs in Chicago and Detroit, where the clearance time is often measured in days.

"We're very confident here in Lansing that we're going to be able to do that in a matter of hours," says Tim Daman.

Daman is president and CEO of the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce. He says Lansing sits at the center of a 600-mile radius that covers half the U.S. population and western Ontario. Daman says the airport is creating a foreign trade zone to help local companies quickly ship their goods to those markets.

"(It's) being able to clear customs here in Lansing and potentially have your product within hours of the flight landing, as opposed to doing that in Miami or Long Beach or New York, and then waiting for it to clear airport, and then either getting it on rail or truck to arrive at its final destination point," says Daman.

A few hundred yards from the runway, Selig stands near a new part of the terminal that's still under construction. He's confident the airport's fledgling international travel will yield even more expansion.

"So you can see the Gate 9 jetway right there you can see where it goes into the building on the second floor," Selig says. "As the program grows, there is room for Gate 10 to be added onto the building as well."

Back inside, two large colored banners above the baggage carousel proclaim Lansing's new buzzphrase: "The Gateway to Michigan." Bob Selig knows that's a stout pronouncement to make. Lansing is not Detroit...and it isn't trying to be. But Selig says the city's central location and good highway connections puts it within better striking distance of the rest of the Lower Peninsula.

"So, we certainly are not trying to put Detroit out of business; that would be ridiculous," Selig concedes. "On the other hand, outside of Detroit, we are the only airport in Michigan that's going to have full U.S. Customs services available for international service in and out of this state and in and out of the country."

Selig admits it will take time before Capital Region International truly lives up to its new name. But with the customs and inspection infrastructure now in place, he's hopeful the airport will accelerate the Lansing economic engine into full thrust.