Dick DeVos has been working overtime in Washington. He was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Management Advisory Council last year. He joins 12 other members who come from transportation authority and airline executive backgrounds. Many did not realize that DeVos had any kind of aviation business background, but he has actually helped put one of the greatest airports on the map.
Before the 2000s, Grand Rapids had a small airport that didn’t have much growth. It had been around since the early 1900s, but ticket sales continued to decline throughout the 1990s. The airport even tried to re-launch in 1999. DeVos had been noticing the economic decline of his hometown, and he had been working with many business leaders to develop new opportunities and build up the city. This included new projects such as the Andel Arena, DeVos Place Convention Center, and DeVos Performance Hall.
However, DeVos had his sights on something else. He wanted to implement a larger plan that would bring in more businesses and start a conversation about Grand Rapids being the new place for conventions and conferences. Part of that was building the convention center, but the next step was getting the airport involved.
DeVos has always been a fan of aviation. He has several pilot licenses, and he can fly his own jet and helicopter. He also is the co-founder of a pilot training charter school called the West Michigan Aviation Academy. The academy is located on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. While many people know DeVos from being the President and CEO of Amway for a brief period in the 1990s, he is now well known for his aviation interests and business acumen.
The airport has experienced considerable growth because of a phone call that DeVos made to the CEO of AirTran Airways in the early 2000s. At the time, there were very few destinations listed at the airport. DeVos wanted to change that, and he explained his strategy to the CEO, wanting to bring in more business travelers to the airport.
The plan worked, and the CEO opened up new destinations including Las Vegas, Orlando, St. Louis, and Denver. These were all cities on the conference and convention circuit. These new flights would help the city grow, but it would also bring in new business interest to the airport, leading to millions of passengers coming through Grand Rapids every year.
In fact, economic experts have said that Grand Rapids has grown considerably, and there has been a huge job boom as well. It’s for these reasons that DeVos was chosen to join the FAA’s council where he can advise the agency on how to approach new growth and help other airports around the country find new growth so that they can renovate as well.
It will be interesting to see what DeVos does in the next two years in Washington. He has already contributed so much to the growth of the agency, as well as his hometown.
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