April 24, 2011
GARY, Ind. — A decade after plans for an expanded Gary airport surfaced — and five years after funding was secured — officials say they’re poised to make 2011 the year the plan takes flight at a facility historically plagued by failed airlines.
A business plan is in place, focusing on defining the Gary/Chicago international Airport as niche in Chicago’s vast aviation market and attracting low-fare airlines flying to leisure destinations. Now officials are waiting for a final agreement among the three railroads the project will impact and say they expect to break ground in July.
Those involved with the project say having the “dirt fly by the Fourth of July” will be a turning point after years of largely behind-the-scenes work that includes burying power lines, securing the land needed for the expansion and gaining a foothold in passenger traffic.
“It’s a slow and tedious process,” the Rev. Marion Johnson, the airport board’s longest-serving member, told the Post-Tribune. “It’s not like going out and building a house.”
He expressed frustration with people who think nothing’s happened for a decade.
“We’ve been doing something all the time,” Johnson said. “I know the last 10 years or so everything has geared up to this point, but this thing didn’t happen overnight. This has been a hard-fought process, and it has been going on all the time. For people to say OK, they’re finally going to do something, that is heartbreaking.”
The city will use $57.8 million from the Federal Aviation Administration for the project.
John Schalliol, executive director for the South Bend Regional Airport, said Gary’s strategy of trying to draw low-fare airlines flying to leisure destinations is a better approach than trying to draw larger airlines.
“In years past, they’ve ignored general aviation,” Schalliol said. “They’ve ignored charters, and they’ve ignored the niche market this plan promotes. They’ve centered on trying to attract main line carriers to Gary. Quite honestly, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. It’s too close to Chicago.”
Schalliol said people are the main ingredient if the Gary facility is to succeed.
“It’s not like building a baseball field, and it will come,” Schalliol said. “It’s just too close to the largest source of air travel in the world. How do you compete with that?”
Mayor Rudy Clay said he’s confident the expanded airport will take off.
“We are talking an airport that is going to soar into orbit,” he said.
Source: CHICAGO TRIBUNE