Louisiana Regional Airport in Gonzales is set to nearly triple in size after a 28-acre land purchase this summer. The airport currently is home to about 100 aircraft on its 15 developed acres.
“We’ve built out every inch of that space,” says airport manager Janet Gonzales.
The new land could fit another 200 planes, although Gonzales doesn’t expect to host that many. She does expect to see more corporate jets, which take up more space than smaller planes and will be well served by a runway that recently was lengthened.
She says 29 people are on a waiting list for private hangars.
“We have the demand to build more,” she says. “Now we have the land, so we’re going to start that process.”
Louisiana Regional is one of two general aviation, public-use, noncommercial airports in the Baton Rouge area listed by the state Department of Transportation and Development; False River Regional Airport in New Roads is the other. There are also two such airports just outside the Capital Region in Hammond and St. John the Baptist Parish. The state has 62 general aviation airports in total, which are thought to contribute almost $1 billion to the state’s economy.
In Livingston Parish, plans are being discussed for a general aviation airport south of I-12 at Satsuma on land owned by developer Garry Lewis. Development is on hold, however, until disputes over the town’s boundaries are resolved.
Gonzales says her airport’s annual operating budget is only about $200,000, which is self-generated through hangar leases and tie-down fees. She is the airport’s only direct employee. The Ascension-St. James Airport and Transportation Authority, a nine-member board appointed by the governor, oversees the airport.
Her customers include hobbyists, student instructors, pipeline patrol companies and users of the aforementioned corporate jets, many of whom are associated with the parish’s petrochemical industry. For a business traveler, taking a private jet is more expensive than flying commercial, but it’s also far more convenient.
“It’s a time factor,” she says.
Commercial airports also are more restrictive in how they allow their airspace to be used and aren’t as accessible to the private owner, says Yvonne Chenevert, who manages False River Regional Airport. General aviation airports have less red tape to deal with, she says.
False River Regional is owned jointly by Pointe Coupee Parish and the city of New Roads. Each entity contributes three members to the airport’s oversight board and $50,000 to its budget, but most of its roughly $750,000 in operating funds are self-generated, Chenevert says.
Agriculture is a big driver of False River Regional’s business. Beyond crop dusting, she says farmers will sometimes have parts flown in when their equipment breaks down. Chenevert cites pipeline patrols, helicopter training flights, and travel associated with the film industry, health care and the Louisiana State Penitentiary as other examples.
“I have a couple people that fly in on a regular basis from outlying areas specifically to go eat at three of the restaurants that are located here,” she says. “So it’s good. [The airport] puts money in everybody’s pockets.”
Chenevert says corporate travelers often don’t want to deal with the traffic associated with getting in and out of commercial airports. And she says that sometimes using an out-of-the-way airport is a good way to stay under the radar if, for example, companies are working on a merger that they’re not yet ready to announce.
“I don’t ask questions [about travelers’ plans],” she says. “Sometimes they tell you, sometimes they don’t.” Chenevert has 17 people on a waiting list for hangars, so her strategic plan calls for more construction.
The 68 public-use airports covered by a recent DOTD study generated more than $6.7 billion in annual economic output in 2011. Most of that value is attributed to the seven commercial airports, although the general aviation airports chipped in almost $967 million. False River’s economic impact was $10.3 million, the study shows, while Louisiana Regional’s was $14.5 million.
Bradley Brandt, DOTD’s aviation director, says the role of general aviation airports in the overall state system is “to assist, support, and help stimulate the rest of the economy across the state.” DOTD’s system plan divides general aviation airports into four levels based on 17 factors measuring the level of services rendered and the need for those services in a given area.
Louisiana Regional and False River Regional are considered Level 2, which means they maintain “a contributing role in supporting local and regional economies” and help connect the region “to the state and national economies.”
The state’s Aviation Trust Fund gets $29.7 million annually from a 4% tax on aviation fuel and does not tap the state’s general fund. About $1.3 million of that goes to operate DOTD’s aviation division, Brandt says, while the rest is reserved for construction and development projects at public airports. Private-use airports are not eligible for state funding.
The system plan says 93% of Louisiana residents live within a 30-minute drive of a system airport. Some of the state’s smallest airports have difficulty sustaining their operations, but as a matter of policy, DOTD does not take a position on whether the state has too many airports or not enough, Brandt says.
“If a community decides they want to develop an airport,” he says, “that they want to be public-owned and public use, by state law they are eligible for funding through our program, and we will work with them in prioritizing their projects.”