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Up, up and away for Gary airport

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The first commercial flight in nearly four years took off Wednesday from the Gary-Chicago International Airport.

Allegiant Air took to the skies with a plane full of Florida-bound passengers. Vickie Lacky of Munster, Indiana was one of the 150 or so passengers.

“I flew out of the Gary airport one time in the past and it was an excellent experience,” Lacky said. “I hope the airline does well because it’s very convenient.”

Convenience is one of the main features Allegiant Air will be trying to market to its target audience in Northwest Indiana and Chicago’s South Side and south suburbs.

“We see a lot of potential for growth in this market and we think Allegiant is the perfect fit,” Eric Fletcher, director of airports for the Las Vegas-based airline, said to WBEZ following a press conference at the airport.

In business for about 10 years, Allegiant Air flies to nearly a dozen destinations, including on the West Coast and Florida.

Passengers in line to board the first commercial flight out of Gary, Indiana in four years. (WBEZ/Michael Puente)

For now, the airline will fly twice a week from Gary to the Orlando Sanford International Airport near Orlando, Florida.

Fletcher says his airline has a track record of being successful in markets where other airlines have not been, like Gary.

For the last decade, the Gary airport has seen a half dozen start-up airlines come and go, the most recent being Skybus Airlines, which flew for the last time out of Gary in March 2008.”

“We connect underserved markets. We go to areas where lots of people before haven’t had success in and we’ve be able to have success,” Fletcher said. “Besides a low fair, we find there are a lot of people who want to go on vacation and there are lots of people who are doing that.”

A host of Gary officials attended Wednesday’s press conference and are hoping the airline can be a success.

“This is about economic development. It’s about jobs. This is about growing our economy,” said Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson said she is confident Allegiant Air will be the first of many commercial airlines to fly out of the airport.

“We certainly think this is the beginning of good things to come out of the Gary Chicago International Airport,” Freeman Wilson said.

The Gary airport is undergoing a $150 million project to extend its main runway. The Federal Aviation Administration is giving the airport until the end of 2013 to have the project completed.

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