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Gary airport hits customs arrival milestone with 500th international passenger

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The Gary/Chicago International Airport marked its 500th international passenger arrival in May, officials announced last week in a release.

Despite the disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, international arrivals have been steadily increasing, officials said.

“This milestone demonstrates the continued appeal of our airport to a host of air travelers, including those coming from overseas markets in Asia, the Middle East and Europe,” said airport executive director Dan Vicari.

“This recent arrival is further proof of the substantial role GCIA plays in Chicago’s air transportation system, which is one of the busiest aviation networks globally.”

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility opened in 2018. So far this year, it’s welcomed 63 flights, up slightly from 2023 when there were 58 arrivals during the same time span.

Officials said the airport’s proximity to Chicago, about 25 miles and a 30-minute drive, has been a key driver in attracting international air travelers who don’t need to stop elsewhere to clear customs.

Dan Vicari was named executive director of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Jan. 12, 2022.

Carole Carlson / Post-Tribune

Dan Vicari was named the Gary/Chicago International Airport executive director on Jan. 12, 2022.

Officials from the airport’s two first-class fixed-based operators,  B. Coleman Aviation and the Gary Jet Center, have made substantial capital improvements in recent years. The companies host arrivals, and fuel and service planes.

The Gary Jet Center opened a $5 million LEED-certified hangar and a $3 million terminal and B. Coleman Aviation opened a $9 million terminal and a $5 million hangar. Both operators anticipate future expansions.

“The on-site facility is a tremendous asset to our business-oriented clients, who frequently determine their aviation choices based on time and convenience to their final destination,” said John Girzadas, president of B. Coleman Aviation.

Gary Jet Center president Lynn Eplawy said the customs facility has opened up more markets.

“Having a customs facility provides us with a substantial advantage in an always competitive sector, allowing Gary Jet Center to offer their customers enhanced travel options as they make their plans,” said Eplawy.

She said the customs facility played a role in its decision to expand operations.

Officials credited past investments and planning for the customs facility’s success.

In 2015 the airport extended its main runway to nearly 9,000 feet, and it is now the second longest runway in the region after O’Hare International Airport.

The airport launched cargo service in 2020 with a contract with the United Parcel Service. The airport’s freight volume is ranked third in Indiana, officials said. The runway length enables it to service larger planes, like the UPS Airbus A300 jets.

The Federal Aviation Administration approved the airport’s master plan in 2022 that guides its growth for the next several decades.

Griffith/Merrillville Airport

The Gary/Chicago International Airport recently acquired the Griffith/Merrillville Airport to the tune of $1.8 million. (Joe Puchek)

Post-Tribune/Joe Puchek/CTMG

The Gary/Chicago International Airport recently acquired the Griffith/Merrillville Airport to the tune of $1.8 million. (Joe Puchek)

Last year, the airport authority purchased the Griffith-Merrillville Airport for $1.8 million to relieve its Gary airport of smaller plane traffic.

The FAA has provided millions of dollars to the airport with the goal of establishing cargo and commercial operations on the expanded runway.

Yet commercial passenger operations remain in a holding pattern since Allegiant Airlines halted service in 2015.

Last year, the airport authority hired a Chicago firm to continue pitching the airport to airlines.

Carole Carlson is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.



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