Weather Updates

Gary airport theme for 2013 is change

GARY — Strong head winds of change blew through the Gary/Chicago International Airport in 2013.

Spurred by Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, the airport authority moved to privatize operations of the struggling airport, and Aviation Facilities Co. Inc./AvPorts, of Dulles, Va., emerged as the chosen operator.

The deal, that calls for a $100 million investment over a 40-year span, could be finalized early in 2014.

Meanwhile, internal change marked the year, as well. The entire authority board underwent a makeover with seven new members taking seats in September. Under a new state law, Gov. Mike Pence appointed businessman Thomas M. Collins Sr., of Valparaiso, to chair the board. The Gary mayor still has the most appointments with four.

Meanwhile, interim director Steve Landry resigned and Freeman-Wilson stunned some members of the authority board by installing her chief of staff, B.R. Lane, as interim director in October.

Lane has no aviation background, but Freeman-Wilson insisted Lane was integrally involved in runway extension planning and in the privatization move and would be a logical choice to head the airport.

Two big setbacks also marred the year. In July, officials announced the $166 million runway extension would not be completed by the year’s end after unexpected contamination was discovered. No completion has been announced, although it’s expected to be ready in 2014.

In August, the airport’s lone passenger service, Allegiant Air, discontinued its twice-weekly service to Orlando, Fla., after 16 months. Allegiant officials blamed a lack of demand for the flights, despite a robust marketing budget provided by the airport and incentives to keep the carrier.

While the airport authority hasn’t indicated the direction it wants the airport to follow, the additional 1,900-feet runway expansion would accommodate almost any Boeing or Airbus plane.

Lane said earlier the airport must determine its vision— whether it’s to be cargo, general aviation or commercial-oriented.

The airport would seem ideal for freight business with its location just minutes from Chicago and its close links to rail and trucking operations and proximity to Lake Michigan ports.

Lane said the runway size will provide the flexibility to make a choice that’s based on market studies and data.

New partner, Aviation Facilities, will also play a role. In its initial proposal, it described itself as a “true one-stop shop” for airport marketing, air service development, business development, and cargo development.

On Dec. 23, Collins cast the lone “no” vote on the proposed partnership agreement with Aviation Facilities. Collins said he had too many unanswered questions about the development portion of the agreement. He said he wanted more specifics before endorsing a 40-year pact.

“I think his concerns can be incorporated into the ultimate contract,” said Freeman-Wilson. “Frankly, that’s what he brings to the board — expertise in the development arena.

“I have every reason to believe that the partners and P3 committee are prepared to answer and incorporate into final documents something he might be comfortable with.”

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