Gary Airport loses only passenger airline

May 28, 2013

(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Allegiant Air plane at the Gary Airport.

The only passenger airline flying out of Gary, Indiana will end service this summer. 

Allegiant Airline starting flying out of the Gary-Chicago International Airport 15 months ago to much fanfare. 
 
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson was on hand to see the first flight take off, along with a host of other local politicians and dignitaries. 
 
The contract with Allegiant was seen as a sign that the Gary airport could be a serious player in the sweepstakes to become the Chicago area’s third major airport. But now, the Las Vegas-based airline says it will stop its twice-a-week route to Orlando, Florida by August 10th. 
 
Allegiant informed the airport in a letter earlier this month. In a statement, the airline cited a lack of strong demand for the flights.
 
The airline will end its run by offering $70 one-way tickets to Sanford, Florida, outside of Orlando, beginning in June. Allegiant Air says it’s open to flying out of Gary again in the future, but as of now, the service doesn’t meet its revenue model. 
 
Allegiant Air joins a growing list of airlines that have come and gone at the Gary airport. Other notable failures were a re-booted Pan Am Airlines, and the notorious Hooters Airline which both ended flights around a decade ago. 
 
The difference being that not long after ending passenger service from Gary, those airlines ceased operations entirely. That’s not likely to be the case for Allegiant Air, which still flies to a number of destinations. 
 
Gary airport authority board chair Nathaniel Williams says the ending of the service had more to do with Allegiant Air than with Gary. 
 
“They have a history of doing this in other cities,” Williams said Tuesday morning at the board’s regular meeting. “We offered them great service here.”
 
Williams says for now they want to concentrate on completing a multimillion dollar upgrade before year’s end -- or risk losing FAA funding for it. 
 
“Our initial project is to try to extend that runway,” Williams told WBEZ. “So, what we’re trying to do is get underway with it and make sure that’s solid before we start our business development.”
 
Williams says once the effort to extend its main runway is complete, he’s confident the airport will be able to attract larger passenger jets and airlines. But Williams admits the effort to persuade several railroad companies to move rail tracks that are in the way of the new runway has been difficult. 
 
“We just have a little snag in the road right now,” Williams said. 
 
The airport will also soon seek proposals to take the airport private. Board member David Bochnowski, who is a well known bank president in Northwest Indiana, says inquiries have been strong. 
 
“I believe a public-private partnership makes sense but we’re going to let the market tell us,” Bochnowski said. “We’ve had interest come as far away as London.” 
 
Corporate and private charter jet service continues at the airport.
 
Michael Puente is WBEZ’s Northwest Indiana Bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @MikePuenteNews