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Southwest Louisiana Radiates the Sound of Success

See how Chenault International Airport in Lake Charles is driving growth in Southwest Louisiana's aviation industry.

By Bill Lewis on August 16, 2016

Lake Charles LA
Lake Charles / Staff Photo

The sound of aircraft flying overhead is the sound of economic success in Southwest Louisiana, where the aviation sector adds jobs and diversity to the economy, helps the agriculture industry thrive, strengthens the nation’s defense and adds to the region’s outstanding quality of life.

Some of the region’s top employers – Northrop Grumman, for example – are directly related to the aviation industry. Other employers are located at airport-related business parks like the 1,400-acre industrial park at Beauregard Parish Airport that provide quick air access for personnel and products.

Smaller facilities like Beauregard Parish Airport also support general aviation users who are attracted by the airport’s uncongested airspace and 5,400-foot-long runway, which can accommodate corporate jets.

A centerpiece of the region’s aviation sector, Chennault International Airport, has a $300 million-plus impact on Southwest Louisiana’s economy each year. The former U.S. Air Force base has been transformed into an industrial airport that offers a 10,700-foot runway and more than 1.5 million square feet of office, warehouse and hangar space.

“Over 1,500 people draw paychecks at Chennault. This number provides diversity of employment and softens the ups and downs of the petrochemical industry. I understand that, since we have high-skill requirements in aviation, the average salary exceeds $52,000 per year,” says Randy Robb, executive director of the Chennault International Airport Authority.

Strengthening National Defense

The airport’s major tenants include Northrop Grumman, which has built and maintained the Joint STARS military surveillance aircraft for the U.S. Air Force at Chennault since the turn of the century. The company employs more than 900 people at the airport.

Louisiana Millwork, a major building materials supplier, has more than 100 employees on the airport’s grounds. Chennault provides the company with space for manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, as well as immediate access to I-10 and I-210.

Million Air, Chennault’s fixed base operator for charter operations, and business and general aviation services, has about 20 employees.

Chennault’s new 8,000-foot-long alternate runway will ensure that air service is not interrupted at times when the main runway is being upgraded or repaired. The three-year project represents an investment of about $12 million. The airport is also replacing runway lighting and signage at a cost of more than $1 million, says Robb.

“Having a usable runway at all times is essential to our region’s economy. The FAA is aware of this fact and supported us, along with the state, in this project,” he says.

Smaller Airports, Big Impact

Smaller general aviation airports also make a significant contribution to their communities. Beauregard Regional Airport, for example, has a financial impact of almost $2 million per year. That amount is certain to grow over time as the surrounding industrial park attracts additional tenants.

“The airport has 1,700-plus acres available for development. The airfield has multiple sites suitable for aviation related business,” says Sam Lack, the airport’s manager.

Companies using the airport’s facilities include Packaging Corporation of America, a manufacturer of cardboard packaging with operations throughout the United States, and in Canada and China, as well as Amerisafe, Hixon Auto Sales, Ingevity, Derksen Portable Buildings and Bridwell Oil.

Fast access to the airport makes the surrounding area more attractive as a destination for growing and relocating businesses. The runway, 100 feet wide and 5,495 feet long, is the longest at any general aviation airport in the region and handles numerous jet and turboprop aircraft, says Lack.

Beauregard Parish Airport benefits the region in other ways, as well.

“The airport receives many medical flights. GA (general aviation) is our main traffic. Air charter flights are frequent. Delta Private Jets, Flex Jet and Flight Options among others. Military flights and paradrop operations are frequent. Crop maintenance for row crops and pine trees results in 500-plus operations per year,” says Lack.

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