An aerial view of the Gary/Chicago International Airport. (Kyle Telechan / Post-Tribune)
An aerial view of the Gary/Chicago International Airport. (Kyle Telechan / Post-Tribune)
Despite stiff head winds in the past, the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority is backing a study aimed at luring an airline with passenger service.

If it succeeds, it would mark the first time a commercial passenger service regularly uses the airport’s extended 9,000-foot runway, completed in 2015.

For years, Gary officials hoped the longer runway, which accommodates larger, heavier planes, could be a game changer in firing up the airport’s economic engine.

Allegiant Airlines, the airport’s last passenger service, departed in 2013. Five other low-cost airlines have also halted service and most, like Hooters Air, went out of business.

In 2020, UPS launched its Next Day Air Service from the airport’s passenger terminal under a five-year deal.

Dan Vicari, executive director of the airport, said Allegiant left when the runway was closed for construction to extend it.

“They had full intentions to come back,” he said.

Allegiant has settled in the South Bend International Airport, offering flights to four Florida cities, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. It also offers flights from the Chicago Rockford International Airport.

The authority retained Mead & Hunt on Sept. 14, at a rate of $7,400 a month, to do a market study and analysis.

Vicari said airlines expect a market study when airports pitch their facility.

Vicari said the firm will prepare about eight different reports over the next year.

He said the airport could use the study to apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Small Community Air Services Development Program, which finances marketing efforts.

The authority also approved design studies for new hangars on the airport’s east end and for the shifting of maintenance and fire safety services to a new midfield campus to open up more space for cargo services.

Vicari said the airport has completed its transition from private management by AvPorts/AFCO LLC, and has been running the airport itself since Sept. 1.

In June, the authority voted to end the eight-year partnership launched under former mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

Vicari said 26 workers, primarily in maintenance and operations, were retained.

Copyright © 2022, Chicago Tribune