The Gary/Chicago International Airport authority took a big step Monday toward landing a new corporate jet operation for its airport, contingent on resolving potential conflicts with its most prestigious tenant.
By two 7-0 votes, the authority board at its regular meeting approved lease agreements with East Lake Management & Development Corp. One is for an existing hangar and the other is a ground lease for a $3 million hangar the company wants to build.
However, Boeing Corp., which houses its corporate jet fleet at the airport, has safety and security concerns about the proposed East Lake hangar being located so close to its own, according to Al Stanley, an airport consultant with JClark Aviation who has been involved in negotiations with both companies.
Specifically, Boeing is concerned about mixing their large aircraft with the smaller aircraft that would be using aprons and taxiway areas in common with the proposed East Lake hangar, Stanley said. Boeing's aircraft are jetliners outfitted as flying offices that can whisk Boeing executives and staff anywhere in the world.
"We want to make sure everyone is happy and can live together," said Gary airport authority board member Cornell Collins before the votes were taken at the airport administration building.
Boeing spokesman Chaz Bickers on Monday emphasized the aircraft manufacturer supports growth at the Gary airport. He said based on Boeing's conversations with the airport authority, the company is optimistic about the East Lake development while striving to maintain safety and security for its own operations.
Boeing is also involved in ongoing negotiations for a new lease at the Gary airport, with its previous hangar lease having expired in April. It is now operating there on month-to-month hold-over provisions in the previous lease, Stanley said.
Under its deal, East Lake will pay the airport authority combined lease fees of $71,932 per year. Both the lease for the existing hangar and the ground lease for the new one will run for 20 years with three, five-year extension options.
East Lake expects to begin constructing the new hangar within months, with a lease completion deadline of two years from now, Stanley said.
East Lake wants to establish what is known as a fixed-base operation for managing, refueling and maintaining aircraft.
East Lake will also manage the airport's 60 hangars for small aircraft for a 20 percent slice of revenues under a deal approved separately on a 6-1 vote by the authority board.
Airport authority attorney Patrick Lyp told the board there are still operational issues that have to be resolved if East Lake wants use the airport's fuel tanks for refilling planes. Currently, the Gary Jet Center handles all refueling operations, including Boeing's.
In 2006, the airport authority was sued by a company that operated a flight school at the airport and wanted to begin refueling planes. The company contended the airport was conspiring to deny it the right to refuel planes. The company lost its lawsuit.
At the time, the airport authority contended the company would have to install its own fuel tanks if it wanted to do refueling, because the airport fuel farm could not serve two providers.
Gary Jet Center owner Wil Davis said that basically remains the case today, so he doesn't know how the airport can tell East Lake it can refuel planes.
"But it has to be resolved," Davis said. "And no one has addressed this at the airport and no one has picked up the phone to ask me about it."