Hard of hearing passengers benefit from Ampetronic hearing loop systems at Gerald R Ford International Airport

More than 90 years ago, a Wright biplane took off from the West Michigan State Fairground. Not long after, Kent County’s first airport was opened near Grand Rapids and in 1926, the United State’s first regularly scheduled airline service began between Grand Rapids and Detroit and it has grown to become an essential hub for the Midwest.

In 1999, Kent County International Airport became Gerald R. Ford International Airport, in honour of the 38th President of the United States and, at the beginning of the new Millennium, it completed a $50 million renovation of its passenger terminal building. Since then, its programme of improvement and upgrade has continued, with one of the most recent additions being an extensive Ampetronic induction loop system, designed to improve the experience of its hearing impaired customers.

Jonathan Curtiss, Network Manager for Kent Count Department of Aeronautics, explains why the airport has invested heavily in the infrastructure for its disabled patrons and in an induction loop system in particular.

“One of the reasons we decided to put in a loop system was that it was brought to our attention by our director Jim Koslosky, who’s son has hearing loss,” he recalls. “In fact, he can barely hear with the hearing aid and as a result Jim (or would you rather he was referred to as Mr Koslosky?) has always been an advocate for these types of things.

“That was the start of it. From there, we looked at all the different available systems. Some of our decision points were made based on whether they were UL listed, what the reputation of the company was in terms of reliability and support for the product and lastly, what was the total cost of ownership for a system?

“We had a small committee here who ranked each of the companies that we looked at. There were really only two that were viable at the time and, based on our ranking, the whole committee was unanimous that we choose Ampetronic.”

From there the team at Kent County Department of Aeronautics, owners and operators of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, looked for a local vendor that would be able to support the system.

“That turned out to be ASCOM,” says Jon. “They already support our PA system, so they had a deeper level of knowledge of how to integrate the PA system to the Ampetronic system. That was very important for us, especially as we have a 24/7 operation and didn’t want to have interruption in service while the loop was being installed.”

The installation went ahead with few interruptions and any minor issues were resolved by ASCOM, alongside Fred Palm and Andy Jankowski at Ampetronic’s US distributor Assistive Audio.

The system encompasses both airside concourses and all departure gates, with Concourse A measuring approximately 37,695 square feet, whilst Concourse B approximately 56,302 square feet. Each is serviced by three individual arrays, providing seamless coverage, and each gate has its own individual loop. ILD-1000G amplifiers with CTU11 transformers and ILC4 Combining Units are deployed for the general concourse areas, with an additional ILD-1000G for each gate.

Signage is positioned prior to and beyond the departure checkpoint to let passengers know that there is T Coil support available. Audio distribution through the loop system in the concourse is zoned, but continuous.

“We already had announcement zones in place that go across the loudspeakers, so we decided to make those the same for the loop system,” explains Jon. “While you’re walking down any length of the concourse, you’ll hear all the general announcements and then when you walk into your gate area, you will hear gate specific announcements. Retail outlets and food courts are covered by the global announcements.”

Jon reports that overall, the system is working very well and that they have had great feedback from customers that have used it.

“Dr David Myers [professor of psychology at Michigan’s Hope College and founder of the ‘Let’s Loop America’ campaign] really helped us at the beginning of this, too,” says Jon. “He came back and listened to the system after installation and approved the performance of the loop, so we got his stamp of approval.

“He both loved the idea that we put a loop system into a fairly good sized airport and I think he liked the quality of the service he was getting and the way it worked from area to area.

“We also have plans to expand the system in to our landside Grand Hall area, which will really help those people who come in and wait for people to fly in and need hearing assistance.”

This part of the installation is planned for the near future, but in the meantime, anyone with hearing impairment flying in or out of Gerald R. Ford International Airport is assured that they will never have to worry about missing an important announcement.