Louisiana Economic Development executive Kelsey Short and Flying Tiger Aviation owner Mo Rolfs announced last week the company will expand, creating a contemporary flight training center for aerial applications in agriculture and other industries.
As part of an $847,000 capital investment, Flying Tiger Aviation will relocate from Rayville to the Morehouse Memorial Airport in Bastrop.
Rayville Mayor Harry Lewis said after the decision was made, the owner of Tiger Aviation had told him leaving Rayville was strictly a business decision after hearing an offer from Bastrop to help with the move.
“I wish them continued success,” Lewis said. “We have other tennants at the airport and I’m sure we’ll be able to get someone into their space.”
At the Bastrop airport, the company will construct 20,000 square feet of hangar space, a 5,000-square-foot maintenance hangar and a 150,000-square-foot expansion of the tarmac. The project will create 21 new direct jobs with an average salary of $61,000 per year, plus benefits, while retaining 14 existing jobs. LED estimates the expansion will result in an additional 10 new indirect jobs, for a total of more than 30 new jobs in Northeast Louisiana. In partnership with Louisiana Delta Community College’s campus in Bastrop, located near the airport, the project will create the Louisiana Aerial Application Center of Excellence, or LAACOE.
“Flying Tiger Aviation is a leader in agricultural aviation training, with 90 percent of its students coming from other states and even international locations,” said Short, executive director of Louisiana Economic Development’s Business Expansion and Retention Group. “With the establishment of the Louisiana Aerial Application Center of Excellence at Louisiana Delta Community College in Bastrop, this facility will be poised to become a pre-eminent provider of aerial application flight training, not only in the field of agriculture, but also in other emerging sectors. Louisiana’s talented workforce and strong business climate continue to encourage companies to invest in our state, where today more Louisianians are working than ever before.”
Flying Tiger is one of only two major agricultural flying schools in the U.S. Founded by co-owner Edwards Barham in 1998, the school provides aviation training, FAA certification, ratings and endorsements for row-crop, forestry and other applications, such as firebombing to control and contain fast-spreading fires. The company offers courses for beginning as well as advanced pilots.
“Northeast Louisiana has the demographics that make it an ideal location for the intersection of agriculture, aviation, engineering and information technology,” said Rolfs, also the chief operations officer for Flying Tiger Aviation. “The region has a rich history in all of these areas with the first aerial application flight occurring here. The largest concentration of aerial application pilots in the world is in the Delta Region. There is simply no better place for the end-to-end development of the science of aerial application to include the use of unmanned aircraft for precision agriculture.”
Louisiana Delta Community College, combining with Flying Tiger Aviation’s resources as an agricultural aviation leader, will partner with company leaders to develop standardized instructional courses for pilots. LAACOE will be the first program of its kind to feature training for manned and unmanned aerial application systems that support agriculture and other fields, such as the oil and gas industry. Unmanned aviation vehicles, for instance, can be used for pipeline safety and surveillance work.
“We are humbled by the opportunity to serve the citizens of Morehouse Parish through this unique partnership and feel privileged to play a role in the Governor’s vision of advancing economic development by creating a skilled workforce for Louisiana,” said Chancellor Barbara Hanson of Louisiana Delta Community College.
Construction at the Morehouse Memorial Airport in Bastrop will begin in November 2014, and Flying Tiger will begin the relocation to Bastrop from Rayville in March 2015. The company expects hiring to begin soon after the relocation, reaching full employment by the end of 2016. Operations will begin in Bastrop by mid-2015, but LAACOE will begin coursework earlier, in September 2014.
“The City of Bastrop is excited about the selection of our airport by Flying Tiger Aviation to establish a new aviation training center,” Bastrop Mayor Arthur Jones said. “This will provide Bastrop a great opportunity to attract new technology-based jobs. We appreciate the confidence that Mr. Rolfs and Mr. Barham have placed in our city.”
Louisiana Economic Development began working with Flying Tiger on a potential expansion project in May 2014. To secure the expansion, LED offered Flying Tiger a competitive incentive package, including a $575,000 Economic Development Award Program grant that will be used by the airport to complete $275,000 in new hangar construction and $300,000 in tarmac upgrades for the project. Flying Tiger Aviation also is expected to utilize the state’s Enterprise Zone program.
“Flying Tiger Aviation will be a wonderful addition to the airport,” said Manager Brent Elton of Morehouse Memorial Airport. “It is the catalyst needed to move the airport in a direction of growth.”
“It is great to see individuals recognize the value of assets that we have available to aviation-related business,” said President and CEO Kay King of the Morehouse Economic Development Corp. “Flying Tiger Aviation will facilitate our airport in becoming a viable asset in the development of technology-based jobs for Bastrop.”
Flying Tiger Aviation offers courses for a wide range of FAA certificates, ratings and endorsements, serving students from across the U.S. and around the world. All Flying Tiger agricultural aviation flight and ground instructors are qualified and experienced agriculture aviation pilots who hold FAA flight instructor certificates.