SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It’s a name change that officials hope will be a game changer.
“We’re expanding our service throughout the world in essence, you’ll be able to get direct flights from South Bend to several international cities, we hope, when it’s finished,” said St. Joseph County Airport Authority Board President Tom Botkin.
It was announced Wednesday that the South Bend Regional Airport is becoming the South Bend International Airport. South Bend is said to be just the second airport in Indiana (along with Indianapolis) that has federal permission to handle international flights of both the private and commercial variety.
“We have two airlines that have expressed interest in flying international from the South Bend Airport to Mexico, and the Bahamas to start,” said St. Joseph County Airport Authority Executive Director Mike Daigle. “And then after that, we’ll go back and revisit with others to look at possible trips to Ireland or Europe that would occur maybe on a weekly basis, maybe twice a week.”
Daigle also expects to be talking about possible service to Toronto.
While international service won’t happen overnight, Daigle expects it could start by the end of this year—when it’s hoped that private planes from foreign locales will be cleared to land in South Bend.
It’s still unclear when commercial flights would follow.
The airport plans to spend millions of dollars on new facilities needed to handle international flights, including a general aviation facility and a federal inspection station for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
In 2013, about 130,000 passengers used the airport in South Bend. Within a few years, it’s estimated that the addition of international service will draw up to 40,000 more.
“30 to 40-thousand international travelers coming in per year, the hospitality industry, these are folks that are going to eat in our restaurants, they’re going to stay in our hotels and they’re going to see once again why South Bend is a great place to work, to live, to raise a family,” said U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, (R) Indiana’s Second District.
“Rockford, Illinois has had a similar facility for some years now and they are now adding on to their terminal to accommodate the increased traffic they’re experiencing,” said Tom Botkin.
Eventually, some would like to see the benefits of the international designation evolve beyond the concept of catering to people.
“Then we're going to go ahead and concentrate on looking what we can do to help the local economy the local region the business owners in the region to move international cargo in and out of the South Bend area,” said Daigle. “This is another thing the airport can do to help create our economy, create jobs, create opportunity that isn’t here today.”
While hopes are sky high that international flights will be added there are no signed agreements in place at this point in time to make that happen.
Airport officials today were vague about the price tag of the project, other than to say it would be a “multi-million dollar” undertaking.
The project will be paid for with a combination of federal, state and airport funds.
According to the airport, the economic impact of this additional new traffic could be in excess of $100 million dollars annually to the regional community.
A number of local politicians were on hand for the press conference, including South Bend Deputy Mayor Mark Neal and Mishawaka Mayor David Wood.
“Becoming an international airport is no small feat. With an estimated economic impact of $100 million dollars by delivering an additional 30,000 to 40,000 international travelers annually, this expansion is one more example that demonstrates the City of South Bend is becoming an economic driver of Northern Indiana,” U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski said.