SCHERERVILLE │ Physically changing the characteristics of the Gary/Chicago International Airport could bring major carriers on board, said the director of the airport during Friday’s Lake County Advancement Committee meeting at Teibel’s Restaurant.
Gary/Chicago International Airport Director Steve Landry spoke about the current $166 million runway expansion project that is slated to be completed in December.
Major carriers fly up to five types of aircraft, and Gary/Chicago has only had the capabilities to handle the smaller one of them, Landry said. Using only 20 percent of its aircraft, from a business model, makes no sense for those carriers to use the airport.
Now it does.
Landry said because of the runway expansion, the airport could handle four out of five aircrafts from the major carriers.
The largest planes, such as the 747s, Landry doesn’t expect to see because the turnoffs that serve the parallel taxiway serving the main runway “are extremely tight.”
Landry said the airport is not in competition with O’Hare or Midway airports. It will only supplement them by taking carriers they don’t consider “moneymakers.”
“Our immediate future is tied to the tourism market – leisure travel – rather than business travel,” Landry said.
Landry envisions someday a customs and immigration facility to allow travel opportunities to places like the Bahamas and Mexico.
He also said an airport in Peotone, Ill., is unnecessary unless one day “we get maxed out.”
Landry also spoke about airlines that have failed in the past at the airport, including Skybus, which lasted only three months.
“We can’t refuse any airlines certified by the Federal Aviation Administration because we receive federal dollars, not only for the extension of the runway but for daily operation of the airport,” he said. “The only thing we can say no to is helping that airline, such as giving them marketing dollars or waiving some of their fees.”
Failures like Skybus were “mom and pop” airlines that rent everything – the aircraft, pilots, flight crew – and then “get some paperwork from the FAA.”
“Then, if you want to fly into Gary, I have to let you, Landry said. “It’s just that easy.”
Landry said the Skybus business model was based on a barrel of oil never topping $80.
In August 2008 oil went over $80, and Skybus called to say it was shutting down, Landry said.
“We asked about their passengers who were in Las Vegas and they said they’ll have to get home somehow,” Landry said. “Nobody remembers the name of that airline, but everyone remembers the airport. It simply was not our fault. We had to let them in here.”
As far as long-range expectations Landry hopes to have is in the line of what surrounds Midway airport as far as a conference center, hotels and other businesses.
“Do I expect that to happen? Yes,” Landry said. “Can I tell you it’s going to happen? I’m not going to stand here and do that.”