More business sought from likely benefits of Gonzales runway extension

Construction underway to lengthen airport runway to 5,000 feet

“We’ve come a long way. We started with nothing.” Robert Jackson, longtime member of the Ascension-St. James Airport and Transportation Authority

During any given week, Louisiana Regional Airport just outside the city limits of Gonzales will have an average of 600 takeoffs and landings of small aircraft.

Those numbers are likely to increase this summer when the runway is extended 1,000 feet.

A construction project underway will extend the 4,000-foot runway, the length that such airport runways in the state were often built to in the past, to 5,000 feet.

The new length will satisfy insurance requirements for corporate jets of a certain weight that use the airport on hot and humid days.

A runway less than 5,000 feet becomes a problem on hot, muggy days, when the air is less dense and there’s less lift.

“It takes more runway” to take off and land in those conditions, said Janet Gonzales, general manager for Louisiana Regional Airport, who is a pilot herself.

In that type of weather, pilots of corporate jets will likely avoid the airport or they might try to keep the plane light by not refueling before take off and fly to another airport with a longer runway to refuel.

“The industry standard for corporate aircraft is 5,000 feet” of runway, said Bradley Brandt, director of aviation with the state Department of Transportation and Development.

“It’s not that corporate aircraft can’t get in and out of there now, but they operate there under a penalty: They can’t refuel in hot weather.”

The new runway extension, expected to be ready by July, will let pilots “load baggage and passengers and fuel up in one stop,” Brandt said.

The airport was awarded $4.1 million in federal and state grants in September for the runway extension project.

The project will lengthen the airport’s taxiway that runs parallel to the runway.

With the longer runway should come increased fuel sales, of which the airport receives a share.

Pilots fuel up at Aviation Specialists, a company at the airport that also provides flight instruction and charter services.

The airport, which is self-supporting, receives 15 cents per gallon on the gas sold for prop aircraft and 10 cents per gallon on the gas sold for jet aircraft.

Each month, an average of 6,000 gallons to 8,000 gallons of gas is sold for prop planes and 1,000 gallons is sold for jets, Gonzales said. Those numbers are expected to increase dramatically with the longer runway, she said.

Other revenue for airport operations comes from rent paid for hangar space — there are 45 hangars in eight buildings — or tie-down space outside.

Monthly rent for hangar space is $270 to $390 and tie-down space is $30.

“Our finances are always in the black,” Gonzales said.

There’s also space set aside for one-time visiting planes, which can park there for free.

“Mostly we want to encourage the traffic to come in,” Gonzales said.

There are more than 100 airplanes based at the airport, either in a hangar or tied down.

“When we crossed the 100-plane mark in the last four years” the airport gained stature in the eyes of the FAA, Gonzales said.

“That made the big difference” in the airport winning a Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program grant for the runway extension, she said.

Ninety percent of the project is being funded through the federal grant with the remainder funded by state matching funds from DOTD’s Aviation Trust Fund.

Both the federal and state money comes from a sales tax on aviation fuel, Gonzales said.

The south end of the runway is where the extension is being added. The project is now focused on drainage and with new treatment of the Panama Canal, which runs east and west across the airport property about 350 feet from the end of the old runway.

Built in 1992 on about 160 acres off of La. 44, the Louisiana Regional Airport is operated by the Ascension-St. James Airport and Transportation Authority.

It’s a general aviation or public airport, meaning it doesn’t serve commercial air carriers.

Robert Jackson, of Geismar, who has been a member of the Ascension-St. James Airport and Transportation Authority since it started, remembers the airport’s beginnings “from the ground up.”

“We’ve come a long way,” Jackson said. “We started with nothing.”

The airport serves people who work with a variety of companies, said Gonzales, including those who provide support services to area industries, patrol oil and gas pipelines or provide technical, high-resolution aerial photography.

The airport, she said, also serves just as many people who may be coming from out of state to visit family, taking their significant other on a dinner date to another city or flying just for the fun of it.

Gonzales said there are people in the area who don’t know there’s an airport here.

“I know there are people out there who would like to be involved in aviation and don’t know we’re that close and accessible to them,” Gonzales said.

Editor’s note: This story was changed to reflect that there are 600 takeoffs and landings at the Louisiana Regional Airport during any given week, not during any given day.