Tool For The City
Lake Charles, LA, is revitalizing itself via economic development, and a key element is Chennault Int'l
BY John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
LAKE CHARLES, LA — In the past two years, the Chennault International Airport here has seen airport operations grow by 145 percent (33,500 in 1998). But then, this is an airport still defining its market niche, and one which only began its rebirth in the mid-80s.
All the pieces are now coming into place for this former Strategic Air Command base to become a dynamic economic generator for the genteel Southern community and petrochemical center that is Lake Charles. For years a major deep water port connecting Southwest Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico, the city now has an additional catalyst to attract new business and create jobs.
It was initially opened as the Chennault Industrial Airpark with the intent of making the airport a cog surrounded by industry. It was renamed an International Airport to build on the global economy and associated dramatic cargo growth that has evolved in the world marketplace since the mid-1980s.
"Our job is economic development for the region," explains Steven Harvey, director of operations and maintenance for Chennault. "That's our main objective for being here."
Says executive director Max Jones, "We are confident that we will lure new people to this airport. We are focusing on international business, specifically air cargo. Airborne Express is already here, and we have the initiative with the Foreign Trade Zone and the opening up of some markets in Central and South America."
As the 1990s come to a close, Chennault and the city are getting in position to experience significant growth, much of it spurred by the economic resurgence successful riverboat casinos have brought to the area. And, they are looking toward the pending results on a regional study which is intended to help them more clearly define how the local airport system fits into that process. Along with that, officials at Chennault are expecting to get their first Airport Improvement Program grant from FAA, a welcome financial relief for a facility which is used to relying on the state and its own revenues to finance airport development.
An emphasis on paying its own way
Since receiving an initial multimillion dollar grant from the state to start up Chennault, the airport has been charged with paying its own way. Its current annual operations budget is $6 million, according to Jones, with one-third of the revenue generated from the major tenant, Northrop Grumman. Another $3 million comes from a parish-wide ad valorem (property) tax.
Chennault has funded much of the airport development to date, including a $700,000 FBO terminal/hangar facility and fuel farm. Chennault Jet Center pays a 6 cent/gallon flowage fee and $2,000/month for the fuel farm, a fixed square foot rate on the terminal, and a square foot rate plus percentage of gross for the hangar.
The control tower is operated under private contract with Serco Aviation Services, costing the airport $230,000 per year. The ILS was installed and is maintained by the airport, and an Automated Weather Observation Station is in the final stages of installation and was funded by the authority. The airport also operates and finances a complete aircraft rescue and firefighting facility.