South Bend Airport Eyes International Nonstops
South Bend International Airport has launched efforts to secure something it has never offered: a nonstop international flight. Executive Director Mike Daigle says the next steps involve working with federal regulators, travel professionals and carriers to zero in on the right targets. Right now, Indianapolis International Airport is the only airport in the state to offer commercial nonstop international service. The process in South Bend, Daigle says, began when a $9 million General Aviation Facility and Federal Inspection Station became fully-operational.
Daigle said SBN officials took into account the footprint of other airports -- such as O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Indianapolis International -- prior to constructing the globally-focused facilities. The investment, Daigle believes, has already paid off in the form of corporate and general aviation traffic from Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, Japan and Brazil. "What that means is, they didn't have to stop some place else in the country to enter the United States as a first point of entry," he said, and the hotel, travel, dining and business expenditures that had gone to other cities are now staying in South Bend. Gary-Chicago International Airport is currently moving forward on a General Aviation Customs and Border Patrol facility.
In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Daigle explained the journey for additional air service varies for each airport. "One of the things you have to do is you have to show there's a market demand for it," he said. "Once we do that and we identify what that looks like, then you go out and you start talking and knocking on doors and having conversations with people about why they should be serving your community."
Daigle says it would be unfair to pin a timeline on the full process and time and research will tell which routes will be the focus. Early on, he says some potential destinations stand out. "We believe that -- especially during the winter months -- a couple times a week having flights available for people to go to places like Cancun, Mexico would do well," he said. "We've also looked at what airports and communities would it make sense for us to go for business travel. We've identified Toronto as a very likely location for business travelers, because of the business connection between Canada and the United States and, specifically, Canada and the state of Indiana."
In mid-January, American Airlines announced its return to SBN with twice-daily nonstops to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. No timeline has been set for when international nonstop announcements could be made, as Daigle says conversations must continue with all parties. At this point, he adds "we don't have any guarantees from anybody."