By John Dodge
CHICAGO (CBS) — When President Obama arrives on Wednesday evening, Air Force One will touch down at Gary-Chicago International airport, rather than the usual O’Hare International Airport.
Officials confirmed the president’s itinerary on Tuesday afternoon. The president won’t be in Gary for long, however.
The plans to land on the 7,000-foot runway in Gary comes just a few days after the air control center in Aurora was sabotaged last Friday by a fire, crippling airline traffic at both O’Hare and Midway.
The White House doesn’t want to cause any additional complications with an Air Force One landing.
“The President will be flying into Gary, Indiana rather than O’Hare or Midway to allow air traffic control to maximize efficiency in the airspace,” a White House official said.
Obama will arrive on Wednesday evening and take the Marine One helicopter into Chicago, where he will stay overnight.
On Thursday, he will attend a campaign event with Gov. Pat Quinn and then give a speech about the economy at Northwestern University in Evanston. The president will depart from the Gary airport on Thursday afternoon.
Obama has never used the airport at Gary since becoming president.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is already looking forward to greeting the president as he steps off Air Force One, on her home turf.
The mayor hopes to leverage the president’s visit to increase air traffic at Gary/Chicago International Airport.
“When businesses see how easy it is for the president to get in and go to Chicago and do the things he needs to do, then it sends a message to them that they can do likewise,” said Mayor Freeman-Wilson.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence will not be on hand in Gary, but Pence will meet Obama on Friday when the president arrives in Evansville to tour a nearby steel mill.
By any measure, Gary/Chicago International Airport is severely underutilized.
The airport lost its only commercial service last year but handles 3,500 private and charter flights each month. The fire at the FAA Aurora center and subsequent flight disruptions at O’Hare and Midway means the president doesn’t want to been perceived to be causing any more delays for air travelers who are already frustrated.
But frankly, Gary officials don’t care why the president’s coming, they’re just hoping Wednesday’s visit won’t be his last.
“We’ll be prepared to service the president and whomever he brings with him in whatever capacity we can in hopes of bringing him back,” said B.R. Lane, the interim director for Gary/Chicago International Airport.
Transportation experts say for many reasons it makes sense that the president would land at Gary.
“The president’s making a smart move any further delays at O’Hare would be politically difficult,” said DePaul transportation expert Joe Schwieterman. “Air Force One creates all kind of havoc.”
The Gary Airport is featured in a new exhibit Schwieterman put on display in the Hammond Public Library.
“Gary’s also the underdog. People are rooting for it. The President’s made clear he supports Gary’s effort for a turnaround. It’s good to see,” he said.
Although the airport is smaller, the security will be just as tight when the president lands Wednesday evening.
The Times of Northwest Indiana reports that Gary officials were hopeful the president would use the Gary airport for his visits to Chicago. When Obama became president in 2008, former Gary Airport Director Chris Curry said there were discussions of potential landings of Air Force One.
Vice President Joe Biden landed at the Gary airport for a fund-raising reception at a private home in the White Oak Estates neighborhood in Munster in 2012.