Gary hopes runway expansion puts airport on map

May 25, 2011 (GARY, Ind.)

For years, the airport has struggled to attract consistent airline service. ABC7's Ben Bradley reports on the new effort to put the airport back on the aviation map.

Gary's airport has long operated on the belief that "if they build it, people will come." But, empty ticket counters, gates and jet bridges are testament to this airport's struggle to get off the ground.

"This is the engine that's going to make northwest Indiana turn," said Gary Mayor Rudy Clay. "And it's coming to fruition and I'm happy about it."

Gary has had success landing corporate fleets like Boeing and private aircraft. But landings and takeoffs are down this year.

The only regular passenger service is a monthly roundtrip charter to a Gulf Coast casino.

The latest hope here is the lengthening of the airport's runway, demolition of a high hill, and rerouting of railroad tracks will allow larger planes to land at the airport.

"The reason it's not getting a lot of traffic right now is that we've been told about the airline business model is if they can't use almost their entire fleet they won't come. By expanding the runway, it gives them more options," said Gary Airport director Steven Landry.

"We are very competitive with Palwaukee and DuPage, so there was an opening three years ago to build a new hangar and we filled up within a month," said Wil Davis, Gary Jet Center.

The runway expansion will cost taxpayers $153 million, and it's not just Hoosiers picking up most of the tab. Through an agreement, $9 million collected from passengers who use O'Hare are being used in this project.

"Gary's biggest shot right now is freight service. A larger runway will allow more efficient freight, larger planes, better take off trajectories. That's pretty exciting, because O'Hare can't handle that kind of traffic right now," said Joe Schweiterman, DePaul University transportation expert.

So, once again, Gary is gambling on a future as Chicago's third airport.

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