Southland Executive Airport is already feeling the effects of the industrial boom in Southwest Louisiana, and a preliminary airport plan indicates the airport will likely see an increase in traffic in the coming months and years.
“We’ve already seen an uptick in fuel sales to corporate aircraft and in corporate aircraft landings,” said Tim LaFleur, who came on board as Airport Manager about one-and-a-half years ago.
The Airport Development Group, ADG, an aviation development company, is currently devising an Airport Layout Plan for the airport, which is required by the Department of Transportation and Development and the Federal Aviation Administration every 10 years in order for airports to receive grant monies. The preliminary ALP for Southland suggests that the airport’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico will make it an ideal base for increasing helicopter traffic resulting from industrial expansion.
“The plan points to our market niche being helicopters and smaller corporate jets,” said LaFleur.
Beyond proximity to the Gulf, Southland offers other incentives for doing business at their location just south of Sulphur.
“We try to remain very competitive in our fuel pricing as a general aviation airport,” said Darla Perry, CPA for Southland Executive Airport.
Perry said the fuel costs hover around 25-cents lower per gallon than competitors.
“That’s to try to give an incentive for planes that are not hangared here to stop in and buy fuel,” she said. Southland also doesn’t charge landing fees as another incentive to use their facility.
The current footprint of the airport consists of primarily donated land. In 1981, Citgo donated 251.7 acres. The airport board, at the time known as the Sulphur Airport Authority, purchased 14.07 acres and the Lawton family of Sulphur, in conjunction with Burton Industries, donated 4.14 acres in exchange for a guaranteed 99-year lease of one acre for $1 annually of one acre on which the Lawton’s built a hangar with ramp access to the airport for a jet Burton Industries based on-site.
There are currently six new T-hangars and eight older T- hangars on north end of airport as well as two large community hangars able to house numerous aircraft and one large hangar that can house two large aircraft. There is a two-tank fuel farm that holds aviation gas and jet fuel. Pending available funding being sought by the airport from several different sources, Southland is looking to build six more T-hangars north of the newer ones at a cost of about $350,000. Perry said all of the T-hangars have been booked fairly solid for at least the past two years. LaFleur said they also need another large community hangar.
There are currently 30 aircraft based at the airport and there are 19,690 take-offs and landings annually.
In anticipation of the industrial expansion, Southland has been advertising for new tenants in the newspaper and trade publications.
“We wanted to put out feelers to see what needs clients might have for this space,” said Perry. “We’ve had two or three proposals – a concrete company, a lay-down yard and a parking company. But we’ve had no serious proposals.”
The airport is an ideal location for aircraft mechanics and inspectors to set up shop. LaFleur said that Federal Aviation Administration regulations require aircraft to undergo an extensive inspection once a year and then less intensive inspections every 100 flight hours.
LaFleur said he flew to an airport in Lufkin, Texas recently that had a restaurant on-site, something that he would like to see at the airport here.
“It’s right in front of the tarmac. There were more people there than planes,” he said.
Southland currently leases upstairs space to a pilot training service. Perry said that in the last year, it has grown from two to three students to 18 students and four certified flight instructors.
“And when those pilots get trained, they’re going to want to buy a small plane,” she said. “And they’re going to buy fuel and need hangar space.”
If First Flight Holdings is awarded a housing contract by local industry, there will be some permanent benefits for the airport.
“Some of the benefits of leasing to prospective future tenant First Flight Holdings will be the construction of a community hangar that will belong to the airport after First Flight’s lease is up as well as another road for ingress and egress and underground utilities that could service new tenants,” said Perry. The improvements would not cost the public or the airport.
Southland operates on about $400,000 a year – $200,000 of which comes from a cooperative agreement with Chennault Industrial Airpark. The rest comes from hangar rentals and fuel sales.
Airport operating hours are from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Amenities for pilots include a lounge with recliners, showers, large bathrooms and coffee.