HAMMOND - With more than $100 million in improvements coming into the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport during the next few years, the regional airport is poised for growth.
A majority of the new investment into the airport is coming from the Louisiana Army National Guard, which is moving an aviation support unit from the New Orleans Lakefront Airport to the Hammond airport, which is farther inland. The Guard expects to spend $110 million to build hangars, offices and other buildings for its operations there.
On a slightly smaller scale, but nevertheless important, the airport secured money in recent years from the Federal Aviation Administration to improve runways, said Jason Ball, airport director. A $2.2 million project to resurface and strengthen the longer of the airport's two runways should begin in a couple weeks, Ball said.
A project to lengthen the runway from 5,000 feet to 6,500 feet was completed in 2004, Ball said.
The types of planes that can land at an airport depends on the length of a runway and how much weight it can handle. The extra length of the runway gave the airport the ability to handle planes such as the small commercial jets that fly into the Baton Rouge Metro Airport, Ball said.
The project to strengthen the longer runway will allow it to handle 65,000 single-wheel pounds. That runway is now limited to 15,000 wheel pounds, he said.
Wheel pounds is a measurement of how much weight is put on each wheel of an airplane as it lands, which determines how large an aircraft can land at the airport, Ball said.
When completed this summer, the resurfacing project would give the runway the ability to handle some Boeing 737 aircraft, the military's C-130 turboprops or the Airbus A-320s, he said.
The jets that Southwest Airlines uses for flights out of the Louis Armstrong International Airport in Kenner could land in Hammond after the resurfacing project, Ball said. However, Boeing 747 planes or the military C-17s that can land in New Orleans still won't be able to land in Hammond, he said.
But don't expect to see passenger service at the Hammond airport, Hammond Mayor Mayson Foster said.
"It makes absolutely no sense to have a passenger airline," he said.
Located less than an hour's drive from the large passenger airports serving the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas, the Hammond airport would be hard-pressed to compete against them, the mayor said.
The extra security measures for airline travel after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., also make offering passenger service out of Hammond problematic, Foster said.
Instead, the Hammond airport will focus on attracting more cargo business, Foster said. Its location near the junction of Interstates 12 and 55 as well as major railroad lines makes air cargo a more natural fit, he said. Plus, the security measures for cargo traffic are not as stringent as for passenger travel, he said.
Bob Basford, the executive director of the Tangipahoa Parish Economic Development Foundation, agrees that air transport is the best goal for the airport. He said that the company officials he talks to about moving to the parish see the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport as an asset for locating in the Hammond-Tangipahoa area.
Tangipahoa Parish already is home to several commercial distribution centers that use the Hammond airport in their business operations, Basford said. Wal-Mart has one of the distribution centers in Robert and Winn-Dixie has one in Hammond. Home Depot has a lumber distribution center near the Hammond airport and a plumbing distribution center in Ponchatoula. Cardinal Medical has a medical supply distribution center located across the street from the Hammond airport.
"We absolutely have prospects that looked at and came to the area because of that airport," Basford said. AIRPORT