Gary Airport, Reconsidered

Gary/Chicago International Airport, backed by federal and state funding, as well as renewed community support, prepares for growth.

According to Karas, the airport is leery of incentive packages that include revenue guarantees. “Getting air service is the toughest job in the airport business,” he says, “tougher than the politics some big city airport directors have to put up with.” Williams adds that the airport’s marketing efforts include e-mail blasts. “We have several thousand people in our database that we keep aware with articles, etc.”

Location, the town’s reputation as a rough area, and other preconceived notions about Gary have also stood in the way of the airport’s growth in the past. “So many times, what we’ve had to overcome is perception,” says Williams. “The people of Chicago think Indiana is so far away and they think we’re in a cornfield. So the past few years have really been about reeducating the community to the advantages of what’s going on here.”

Karas says getting the master plan or the “vision for the airport” in front of the public and letting them know what potential exists at Gary was key. “Then we just started chipping away at one thing after another — showing certain successes.”

Corporate, Cargo Growth

Corporate aviation has seen a boost at Gary as well in recent years. Shortly after Boeing moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago, it chose to base its corporate fleet at Gary — a definite boost for the airport. In a perfect case of “if you build it they will come,” Gary constructed the $9 million hangar, says Williams.

Wil Davis, president and CEO of Gary Jet Center, a full-service fixed base operator here, says business aviation at Gary is growing. “Basically all of my business is Chicago-based corporate jet business,” says Davis. Due to expanded airline service at Midway, Davis says that airport is no longer ideal for corporate aviation.

The FBO’s facilities, including a 24,000-square foot hangar and two subleased hangars totalling 25,000 square feet, are completely full. Davis also has an option on additional land at Gary where he’s looking to build a 38,000-square foot corporate hangar to meet growing demand. With Gary/Chicago Airport, Davis says his business is “in the right place at the right time. With the relocation of the railway, the growth potential here is just unlimited.”

Gary Jet Center employs 40, offering maintenance, charter, and line services. Davis’s company also handles cargo loading and unloading, as well as passenger handling and ground support when an airline is serving the airport. The FBO maintains the Boeing corporate fleet of two 737s and five Challengers; Gary Jet Center has five aircraft on its own charter certificate. According to Karas, some 2.5 million gallons of jet-A and avgas flow through the airport annually. In 2005, Gary had 49,000 operations and currently has some 90 based aircraft.

The National Guard is also investing in Gary/Chicago Airport and recently began clearing some land there for an anti-terrorism facility. According to Williams, the facility will house Blackhawk helicopters and SWAT teams that would be used against any terrorism in the region.

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