New Lafayette airport director will oversee array of upgrades

The next Lafayette Regional Airport aviation director, who is expected to be appointed this fall, will step into a buzz of activity on projects worth tens of millions of dollars, as the facility improves and expands.

And that’s in addition to the daily takeoffs and landings of commercial and private planes.

“It’s getting extremely busy,” said Matt Cruse, chairman of the seven-member Airport Commission.

The aviation director position became vacant June 15 when longtime Director Greg Roberts resigned abruptly. Roberts’ salary was $118,000 annually.

Roberts was placed on administrative leave after an incident June 11 in which he allegedly pointed a toy gun at an engineer during a disagreement.

The Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office investigated the incident and turned over the findings to Lafayette Parish District Attorney Mike Harson. Harson has not indicated whether he’ll pursue charges against Roberts. Harson on Thursday did not answer an email seeking comment.

Airport operations are being handled now by interim Director Mike Burrows, who is 38 and joined Lafayette Regional in 2002. Burrows said he intends to apply for the director’s job.

The commission is forming a five-member search committee that will set the bar of what job candidates must reach to be considered. The committee will include three Airport Commission members, one Lafayette City-Parish Council member and one chosen from the local business community, Cruse said.

The search criteria will be given to Larry Sides, of Sides & Associates, to advertise nationally for a director.

Cruse said he plans to hire a human resources firm to help Sides & Associates delve into the backgrounds of the job candidates and whittle the candidate list to 10. After further vetting, the list will be narrowed to five for interviews, then to three, who will meet face-to-face with commission members.

The hiring process should take no more than three months, Cruse said, and the person hired will have to hit the runway running.

A range of projects ongoing or about to start include:

Construction of a $3 million aircraft taxiway.

General aviation ramp improvements for noncommercial aircraft at a cost of $8 million.

Lengthening an access road that, when finished, will circle the runways and taxiways. The $4.2 million project involves constructing a new cement road that will tie into an existing asphalt road that will be overlaid.

Building a new cargo facility for carriers FedEx and UPC, which will remove those companies’ big cargo planes from the congested middle of the airport. The project is being funded with $5 million in state capital outlay money.

Construction of a hangar to assemble Bell Helicopters’ new short line single, or SLS, model. The Bell facility will be built near the airport’s air traffic control tower. The hangar is being built with $26.3 million in money from Louisiana and will be owned by Lafayette Regional Airport. The 14.5-acre plot where the hangar is to be built is undergoing an environmental assessment before construction.

A proposed new terminal for commercial passengers estimated to cost upward of $90 million. Lafayette Parish voters Dec. 6 will decide whether to impose a temporary 1-cent sales tax to finance the project. The tax would run for eight months in 2015 and raise an estimated $35 million. The remaining $55 million of the $90 million tab would come from state and federal matching grants.

“If the Dec. 6 ballot is approved by voters, the wheels will really start to turn,” Cruse said.

Future projects still on the drawing board include improving one private hangar and razing another, making room for a new corporate hangar and construction of a new Acadian Ambulance facility.

Burrows said airport operations have gone smoothly in the weeks since Roberts resigned. Burrows was assistant aviation director under Roberts before taking over the top job in mid-June.