Hammond, FL Pursues Int'l Airport

The city plans to work during the next 12 months toward making Hammond Northshore Regional Airport an international port of entry, Mayor Mayson Foster said Wednesday.

The mayor made the statement during a quarterly meeting with city government department heads while the group reviewed the past fiscal year and announced goals for the 2006-07 fiscal year.

Foster said that gaining certification of the regional airport to handle international flights is a feasible goal during the city's new fiscal year which began July 1.

The idea came from officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which opened an office at the airport in 2002, airport director Jason Ball said. Foster added the airport already has received landing requests from pilots of aircraft flying in from other nations.

There would be no international commercial flights landing in Hammond, but private or business jets needing a port of entry could use the airport, Foster said.

An airport the size of Hammond Northshore Regional would be preferred to larger airports because less-busy airports such as Hammond's can give planes speedier landing clearance, Ball said.

In order to allow international flights to land, the airport would need to pay for a dedicated customs official to check baggage and people into the United States, Foster said. The official would cost the city $125,000 to $150,000 a year, but the landing and customs fees charged would be expected to cover the cost, he said.

Foster and Ball said that while they do not yet have a breakdown of costs involved in hiring such a customs official, it likely involves paying for needed equipment, drug-detecting dogs as well as salary and benefits, Ball said.

The other improvement that must be completed in order to handle international flights is a project to lengthen and strengthen runways and finish related construction, Foster said. The project is expected to be completed within the next month, Ball said.

The Hammond airport's international status would be another boon to a facility undergoing $112 million in improvements as a result of the Louisiana Army National Guard's decision to move its aviation units to Hammond from hurricane-damaged New Orleans Lakefront Airport, officials said.

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