A major stride has been taken in Michigan's pursuit of advanced air mobility, with Battle Creek Unlimited (BCU) obtaining a $7 million allocation from the 2024 state budget. Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed off on the funding on July 31, earmarking it for the creation of an advanced air mobility park named MICH-AIR at the bustling Battle Creek Executive Airport (BTL).
The inception of MICH-AIR dates back to 2019 when BCU, propelled by a grant from the Michigan Defense Center, started to evaluate the potential of Battle Creek as a prime location for drone enterprises. Boasting one of the state's busiest runways at 10,004 feet, BTL is primed for drone operations, given the 200 acres of surrounding land available for expansion.
Battle Creek Executive Airport is no stranger to the aviation sector. Hosting giants such as Duncan Aviation and WACO Aerospace, and educational institutions like Western Michigan University’s College of Aviation, the airport is already a significant player in the field. Furthermore, with the Michigan Air National Guard’s 110th Wing operating a remote drone endeavor, and its proximity to the Fort Custer Industrial Park housing nearly 90 firms and a workforce exceeding 13,000, BTL is set to become a key hub for advanced air mobility.
This sector encompasses not just drones but also electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft. BCU's vision for MICH-AIR is to position it as Michigan's foremost facility for drone manufacturing, operations, maintenance, repair, and training, along with a focus on urban air mobility. The $7 million fund will primarily be funneled into enhancing BTL's airspace surveillance infrastructure, readying it for the anticipated surge in drone traffic.
Highlighting the potential of the project, BCU President & CEO Joe Sobieralski remarked, “MICH-AIR will place Battle Creek and Michigan squarely on the map of the advanced air mobility domain. As this sector undergoes rapid expansion, MICH-AIR promises to revolutionize our community, infusing it with a fresh high-tech industry and generating numerous well-paid job opportunities.”
While many might casually label MICH-AIR a 'drone park', Sobieralski emphasizes the distinction between personal hobbyist drones and the larger, commercial-scale autonomous drones in development. Targeting major aviation and defense manufacturers, MICH-AIR aims to lead in the design and deployment of next-gen aircraft suited for a plethora of applications ranging from transport and cargo drone delivery to agricultural and defense uses.
The growth trajectory of the commercial drone market underscores the timeliness of MICH-AIR. Estimates suggest a leap from $2.3 billion in 2021 to a staggering $11.2 billion by 2028. With the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) already exploring commercial drone opportunities in partnership with Ontario, Canada, MICH-AIR's launch solidifies Michigan's ambitions in the burgeoning unmanned aerial systems sector.