Gary Airport Wants Atlanta connection

May 12--GARY, Ind. -- The Gary/Chicago International Airport has applied for a $600,000 grant to help kick-start Delta Airlines service to Atlanta.

The U.S. Department of Transportation grant could be used to help pay airport fees or do advertising for Delta or another airline, according to airport administrator Paul Karas.

The airport's strategy is to get service started between Gary and a major hub like Atlanta in order to make it a gateway to the nation and world, Karas said.

Karas talked about the airport's efforts to land regularly scheduled passenger service on Thursday during a presentation by aviation consultant Michael Boyd. It was hosted by the Northwest Indiana Forum.

Gary/Chicago lost regularly scheduled air passenger service when Hooters Air ended service at the airport in January. Hooters has since ceased passenger operations nationwide.

"I was talking to the mayor of Gary yesterday, and I said if it has wings and can take passengers we're going to go after it," Karas said.

About 40 people attended Wednesday's presentation, including several members of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, airport staff, local construction executives and others.

Boyd told the gathering it takes "gentle pressure relentlessly applied" to induce an airline to provide start-up service at regional airports like Gary/Chicago. Getting Blue Chip companies like Mittal Steel and U.S. Steel behind the effort is one key to reaching that goal, Boyd added.

The Boyd Group, of Evergreen, Colo., where Boyd is president, helped prepare the airport's DOT grant application. The money would come from DOT's small communities air service development program.

The South Bend and Evansville airports won a $1 million small communities air service development grant to link the north and south ends of the state following the ATA bankruptcy two years ago.

Delta is just one of a number of airlines the Gary/Chicago airport has talked to about establishing regular service. JetBlue Airways CEO Dave Neeleman has visited the airport more than once and taken a tour of the area, Karas said.

The airport director was careful not to oversell the effort, saying the airport is just about continually talking with airlines about establishing service.

"With JetBlue, it's a long shot," Karas said. " ... We don't like to talk about what we're doing, but Jet Blue wants to come to Chicago."

The airport director said he feels JetBlue could fill three flights a day to New York. Other airlines that have shown interest in Gary include Allegiant Air, which operates flights from numerous regional airports to Las Vegas, Nev. and Orlando, Fla.

There have also been on-again, off-again talks with cargo carrier DHL. There is already a substantial amount of cargo flown into Gary for local manufacturers like the Ford Motor Co. Chicago Assembly Plant, Karas said.