MARC CHASE: Airport needs an itinerary rooted in demand, not dreams

2013-06-11T00:00:00Z 2013-06-12T12:06:20Z MARC CHASE: Airport needs an itinerary rooted in demand, not dreamsMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
June 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Six airlines in 14 years have landed and then flown away quicker than their executives could leave impressions in their Gary/Chicago International Airport seat cushions. That makes nearly one airline that established service and then abandoned the airport every two years.

This is not a proven flight plan for success.

I didn't agree with late, great Times columnist Mark Kiesling on everything when he was here. But if there's a newsroom in heaven, he's looking down right now and saying, "I told you so."

Kiesling was right in late 2011 when he quipped that death row inmates had a much better survival rate than airlines at the Gary airport. And he was nearly right when he predicted Allegiant Air, which had just started service at the airport shortly thereafter, wouldn't last a year in Gary.

Allegiant exceeded Kiesling's expectations by about three months, so Mark would have lost the sack of White Castles he staked on the prediction.

Is the region and its airport -- long pitched as the untapped economic engine of Northwest Indiana -- going to learn anything from this repetitive failure? Some want the airport to regroup and seek another passenger airline in the wake of Allegiant's recent departure. But isn't it long past time for a new plan?

Starting with Pan Am in 1999 and then continuing on with Southeast, Hooters, Sky Value and Skybus, these passenger airlines left almost as quickly as they arrived. Allegiant just joined the list.

Many resources have been expended in the last decade and a half as Gary airport officials sought to put the region airfield on the map. But how often does this pattern have to be repeated before we realize passenger service may not be the answer?

It's time to put that effort into landing a new alternative -- perhaps the air transportation of freight rather than people.

In departing the airport a year and three months after establishing service at the airport, Allegiant officials told The Times the demand in Gary just wasn't fueling the engines of the company's bottom line. It wasn't long ago -- February 2012, in fact -- when Allegiant officials told us the airline would be different from the long list of other departed airlines given its innovative business model and proven track record.

Not so different, it turns out. Allegiant can't be blamed for making a business decision. Airlines and other businesses don't thrive on good will. They succeed by supplying services based on sustaining demand.

No one with any sense for local development wants to see the Gary/Chicago International Airport throw in the towel on becoming the economic engine it can be.

But no one with any sense for business should accept a flight plan that repeatedly takes off and lands in the exact same place -- in the course of the same trip.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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