Airport's $225,000 couldn't keep airline in Gary

2013-05-25T16:47:00Z 2013-05-26T14:20:04Z Airport's $225,000 couldn't keep airline in GaryKeith Benman, (219) 933-3326

The Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority spent $225,000 marketing Allegiant airlines flights to the public, but it wasn't enough to keep the airline in Gary beyond this summer.

The Airport Authority announced Friday night it had received a May 17 letter from Allegiant stating its last scheduled flight from Gary would take place Aug. 10, leaving the airport once again without regularly scheduled passenger service.

The Airport Authority approved the first $75,000 for marketing the Las Vegas-based airline through radio, television, billboards and other media when it launched its two-flight-per-week schedule from Gary in February 2012. During the summer it put up $75,000 more, and in October the authority board, with a 4-0 vote, put $75,000 more into the effort.

Local officials say that money was not wasted, as Allegiant flights enabled the Gary airport to board more than 10,000 passengers in 2012, which qualified it for $1 million in federal airport improvement funds. If the airport doesn't break the 10,000 passenger mark, it gets only $150,000 in such funds.

Northwestern Indiana Regional Development Authority CEO Bill Hanna said one issue, such as Allegiant ceasing flights at Gary, will not determine the airport's future.

"We need to take a longer view of things and have a commitment to getting the job done," he said of the airport's future plans and the $166 million expansion project the RDA is helping fund.

Hanna said he only learned Friday night of Allegiant's decision to end flights in August.

On Friday, the airport's interim director, Steve Landry, explained Allegiant's departure by stating: "Allegiant's service from Gary to Orlando isn't consistent with their revenue model."

Landry said Allegiant remains open to looking at future opportunities at Gary. That was reiterated Saturday by airport spokesman James Ward.

"They left the doors open for discussion," Ward said. "So it's not like they were dissatisfied with the services here at Gary."

Allegiant has been flying one flight round trip on Thursdays and Sundays between Gary and Orlando/Sanford International Airport. Beginning June 5, its Gary flights will switch to Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Starting with Pan Am in 1999, Allegiant is the latest in a line of six airlines to test the waters at Gary before pulling out. Most of the others went out of business altogether about the same time as they ended Gary flights. Those were Southeast, Hooters, SkyValue and Skybus. Skybus still holds the record for the shortest stay — three weeks.

Gary airport officials consistently claimed passenger loads for Allegaint flights from Gary exceeded the airline's minimum threshold for viability.

Keeping Allegiant in Gary and even the prospect of expanding its services to other cities was also the subject of months of talks between the airline and the airport's lead consultant, JClark Aviation Group.

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