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Airport Uses Name Change to Land 2 Airlines

November 27, 2005|Mark Skertic | Chicago Tribune

ROCKFORD, Ill. — Bob O'Brien has taken some grief for the decision to rename the airport here.

It became the Chicago/Rockford International Airport this month, although it is about 90 miles from downtown Chicago.

Milwaukee and South Bend, Ind., are similar distances from the city, but neither of those public airports has seen a need to add Chicago to their name.

But Rockford is close enough to the far northwest Chicago suburbs that many of its potential customers identify with it, said O'Brien, the airport's executive director. Rockford also is trying to prove it can support daily service by major carriers, even if O'Hare International Airport is within driving distance.

O'Brien calls the name switch -- from Greater Rockford Airport -- a reflection of changes in marketing and attitude.

It also is the outgrowth of an effort to promote the airport that enabled Rockford to land what many said was impossible: twice-daily service by major airlines -- United Airlines and Northwest Airlines.

Rockford's success at attracting United and Northwest came after an intense effort to demonstrate that there was sufficient demand in the local market, O'Brien said. Now, the airport must prove it can support those carriers.

Northwest has been flying the route since May, and an airline representative called the first months disappointing. United is to launch its service next year.

Rockford went to major carriers citing its success with smaller players, such as Hooters Air and TransMeridian Airlines. Then it offered financial guarantees to United and Northwest. Rockford used federal and local money to give Northwest a $2.8-million revenue guarantee and United a $2.5-million deal.

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