Wayne County Airport was first opened in 1929 as a small airport 20 miles from downtown Detroit, at the present site of Detroit Metro. The airport provided general aviation service and hosted a small air national guard base. For many years, it was not the primary airport providing commercial air service to the Detroit area. Detroit City Airport was the primary commercial airport, providing air service until World War II. Following the war, some airlines created an airport management company and started service at Willow Run Airport, which was owned by the University of Michigan.
Beginning in 1955, Wayne County Airport tried to lure commercial air service. Because the airlines operated Willow Run Airport themselves, they were reluctant to move to Wayne County Airport so the county offered the airlines tremendous amounts of authority and operating control to move to the new location. By 1958, a new terminal and a longer runway were built and the airlines began moving to Wayne County Airport which became Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
In 1959, the airlines and the airport signed 50-year (eases and financing agreements which remain in effect today. With airline support, new terminals were built in 1966 and 1974 to create most of the passenger terminal facilities in operation today.
Until the Wayne County charter was adopted by a public referendum in 1982, the airport had been managed by the Wayne County Road Commission. In adopting the charter of 1982, voters were, in part, responding to many of the management problems the county was facing.
One of the most severe of those problems was the Wayne County Road Commission. Its accountability was very limited yet it controlled vast amounts of revenue from several sources, including the airport. Commission management and its decisions were frequently criticized.
When the county was reorganized, management of the airport was given to the Wayne County Office of Public Services, Department of Airports. The director reports to the elected Wayne County Executive. Thus, management of the airport is the responsibility of the Wayne County Executive with oversight by the Wayne County Board of Commissioners. No other unit of government plays a decision-making role in Metro airport management.
In addition to Metro Airport, the Office of Public Services also operates the county parks, roads, public works and Willow Run Airport (which was recently purchased by the county from the University of Michigan). Services provided at the airport by county government such as snow removal, maintenance, security and others, come from many departments. Thus, not all functions at Metro are managed by the airport.