Gary/Chicago International Airport has two runways. The longest, at 7,000 feet, runs northwest/southeast and is referred by its compass bearing 12/30, meaning 120 and 300 degrees, respectively, from due north. Within a year, the runway will have been lengthened to 8,900 feet.
The shorter runway runs northeast/southwest and is referred to as 02/20. Its current length is 3,500 feet and will stay that way for a long time.
Having owned and developed my business at the airport for 22 years, I have continually heard the public refer to runway 02/20 as the crosswind runway. That is far from correct and a major misnomer.
Because the prevailing winds in our region are from the southwest, the airport’s existing long runway 12/30 is the real crosswind facility.
Landing and taking off with a severe crosswind is a challenge to say the least, notwithstanding the fact most aircraft accidents occur during either take-off or landing. Flying is basically the management of energy.
With the superb jet engines we have today, acceleration to high altitudes at more than 450 miles per hour is done almost effortlessly. However, at some point in the flight you have to start dissipating that energy by reducing speed gradually instead of abruptly through the brakes and tires. And a 3,500-foot long runway is much too short to dissipate the remaining energy the aircraft has once it lands without risking severe harm to passengers and aircraft.
The FAA is in the safety business, and that is why they approved the plan and funds to reroute the CN railroad, which is only 200 feet from the end of runway 30, and then lengthen that runway by 1,900 feet. At the time the FAA had no desire to even discuss lengthening the shorter runway to accommodate jet aircraft. There was just so much money in the pot, and they made the correct decision to put safety first.
The strategic plan developed by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority several years ago also endorsed the need to lengthen the short runway and to maximize the marketability of the airport. The airport administration has their hands full with the current project trying to meet a completion deadline and deal with cost issues. Money needs to be borrowed to complete the project. Obviously lengthening the short runway is not even on the table for discussion, but there might be opportunity in the future.
Recently, a member of the group looking into privatizing the airport was quoted saying that “unless you bring $100 million to the table,” the group did not even want to talk. Well, if that is the minimum amount the group expects to receive, the first use of the funds should obviously be for the increasing the short runway’s length.
Marketing the use of Gary/Chicago Airport, along with the development of the region, will then become a much easier task.