Allegiant Air will fly from Gary/Chicago International Airport to the Orlando/Sanford area in Florida two days a week starting in February, giving the airport its first regularly scheduled airline service in three years.
The flights were announced in a low-key presentation at the regular meeting of the Gary Airport Authority on Monday, after the board approved waiving landing, terminal and fuel flowage fees for the airline for two years.
"We've been focused on the runway extension program, so we weren't looking for airline service," Airport Authority President Nathaniel Williams said. "But if an airline wants to come to our airport, that's wonderful as well."
Reservations for flights between Gary and Orlando Sanford International Airport now can be made at Allegiant's online reservations center. Base fare for a one-way ticket is $69.99. The airport is located in Sanford, about 20 miles from Orlando.
The businesslike announcement Monday featured none of the high-profile public officials and others who showed up at previous Gary airline announcements, which always began with soaring hopes and often ended with the airlines going belly up.
Keith Hansen, Allegiant director of airports and facilities, told reporters that in contrast to those airlines, Allegiant has an established track record, flying from 77 small and midsize U.S. cities to high-profile tourist destinations like Orlando/Sanford in Florida.
"In markets very similar to Gary where airlines have come in and failed, we have achieved success," Hansen said. "And I think we can do that in Gary."
More Allegiant flights are possible at Gary in the future if the Gary to Orlando/Sanford schedule proves popular, Hansen said.
The inaugural flight from Gary to Sanford will be Feb. 15. After that, flights will depart Gary at noon every Sunday, starting Feb. 19, and at noon Thursday, starting Feb. 23. Departures from Orlando Sanford International to Gary will be at 9:45 a.m. on the same days.
The deal struck Monday capped off about six months of negotiations between Gary/Chicago International and Allegiant, Hansen said.
The contract approved by the Airport Authority also stipulates the airport will spend $75,000 on marketing Allegiant. That marketing fund will be matched by the airline. If Allegiant pulls out before one year, it will reimburse the airport for all or part of the $75,000 based on a sliding scale.
Gary Interim Airport Director Steve Landry said the airport will receive $1 million per year from a Federal Aviation Administration program every year Allegiant boards more than 10,000 passengers at Gary. It currently receives only $150,000 from the same program because it has not met that boarding threshold since 2008.
About 2 1/2 months ago, hopes were raised Allegiant would be flying from Gary to Las Vegas when the airport announced a "major airline announcement" for Oct. 28. But hours later, airport officials said they suddenly had learned that "operational limitations" of Allegiant aircraft would prevent them flying out of Gary.
Landry said at the time the railroad embankment that sits just 130 feet from the end of the main runway was the main impediment and stressed the need to complete the airport's $153 million expansion plan because it removes that obstacle.
On Monday, he said he understood those operational limitations were largely removed with the change in destination to Orlando Sanford International instead of Las Vegas. The MD-80 airliners Allegiant operates will be carrying less fuel on the Gary to Orlando/Sanford run than they would for the longer flight to Las Vegas, so the planes will be lighter at takeoff.