WALKER — With a positive feasibility study in hand, the parish has contacted state and federal aviation authorities about building an airport in Livingston Parish.
“A general aviation airport is deemed highly feasible from the parish perspective,” according to the study by LJC Poole LLC.
Parish President Layton Ricks has written to the state requesting inclusion of the proposed airport in the Louisiana Airport System Plan, and the parish’s consultant has contacted the Federal Aviation Administration about potential runway sites south of Interstate 12, records show.
The study says the airport would require at least 200 acres, but states that 500 acres would be ideal.
Interviews indicate the biggest hurdles are getting state and federal approval, finding a financially feasible way of obtaining land, securing grants to cover construction costs and dealing with noise concerns.
The airport would accommodate small private planes and corporate jets but not large jets, Parish President Layton Ricks said.
More than 50 planes, including five jets, are registered to owners in the parish, he said.
For a new general aviation airport to be built, state and federal guidelines require that at least 10 planes must be based there, and Ricks said owners of about three times that many planes already have indicated a willingness to base their aircraft at a Livingston airport.
Calvin Blount, a pilot who has been serving on a committee working on the project, said it appears that more than enough planes are owned in Livingston Parish to justify an airport.
Having several corporate jets in a parish is considered significant in planning a new general aviation airport, said the parish’s airport consultant, Lucien “Lu” Cutrera, of T. Baker Smith LLC.
A master plan for an airport and a site selection study are both about 90 percent complete, Cutrera said.
State and federal guidelines specify that new airports should be at least 20 miles or 30 minutes in driving time from existing airports.
To comply with the guidelines and a request from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which is a facility in Livingston researching cosmic gravitational waves, the airport probably would be built somewhere south of Interstate 12 and north of La. 42, between La. 63 and La. 447, he said.
To minimize cross-wind landings, planners want to build the runway in a north-to-south orientation since most area winds come from the south.
The site location would be designed to avoid urban areas and towers, Cutrera said.
The parish is considering a 5,400-foot runway in what is roughly estimated as a $12 million project, Ricks said.
The parish is the sponsor, according to a letter from Ricks to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development’s aviation section.
The project sponsor would have to obtain the land, but that cost is often eligible for reimbursement through the federal grant process, Cutrera said.
The FAA usually pays 90 percent of the other costs, he said.
Public facilities at the last three airports built in the state were paid for with 90 percent federal funds and 10 percent state funds, Cutrera said.
Building and funding an airport involves state and federal approval, said Brad Brandt, director of the DOTD’s aviation section.
“In most cases the local government agency has to buy the land,” he said. “We look very favorably on those sites.
“If a location is deemed justified, then it could be eligible” for state funding, he said.
Once it’s placed on the state’s airport plan, the local government also could apply for federal funding, though that process is more stringent, Brandt said.
Local funds generated by the airport are required to stay at the airport for operations and maintenance, he said.
Airports make money by leasing ground space for hangars, tie-down space for aircraft and fees from fuel sellers, the DOTD aviation director said.
Marshall Harris, chairman of the Parish Council’s Finance Committee, said he thinks an airport could be self-supporting once built.
The project appears doable if there are state and federal grants to build it, he said.
He said he hopes someone in the area will donate the land.
That could benefit a landowner who also owns land adjacent to the site, Harris said.
The parish also could look at bonding a portion of future airport revenues to purchase the land, he said.
Parish Councilwoman Sonya Collins said availability of outside funds is key in whether an airport can be built at this time.
The parish can’t afford to spend a lot, but state and federal funding could make the project possible, she said.
With the number of planes in the parish, an airport will be necessary at some point and will move the parish to the next level of its development, Walker Mayor Bobby Font said.
“I don’t know if that time is now or not,” he added.
Noise might be a concern depending on location, but until a location is chosen, that issue can’t be addressed, Font said.
Mayor Derral Jones, of Livingston, the other municipality close to the area being considered, had similar comments.
“It might spark some development,” Jones said.
However, he also said he has some concern about the potential for noise problems if the facility isn’t located properly.
Collins, the councilwoman in whose district the airport may be built, said she likes the concept, but won’t be able to support it if it will be a noise problem for her constituents.
“People don’t want to be woken up by airplanes,” she said.
Collins said she would want public hearings in the area before a decision to build is made.
Much of the area being considered is wooded and has no homes or only a sparse population, she said, adding that the noise wouldn’t be like that of a major airport.
Brandt said noise issues depend on airport locations.
“We want to make sure they’re not built around residential areas, schools or churches,” where noise might be a problem, the DOTD aviation director said.
Noise typically isn’t a major issue at general aviation airports because small planes usually gain sufficient altitude and don’t produce much ground noise by the time they get off airport property, he said.
Land use regulations are important to avoid residential encroachment that can result in noise issues, Brandt said.
In the case of Livingston’s application, Brandt said, the Parish Council could look in coming months at land use restrictions in the area where it hopes to build an airport.
DOTD doesn’t expect to rule on the parish’s application until after the state completes its new airport system plan, which is due in May, Brandt said.
Also, it probably will take three to six months for the FAA to give the parish airspace determinations on the runways under consideration, he said.
Before an airport can be built, the council also needs to approve height restrictions on buildings and towers in the path of the runway, Ricks said.
A lot still needs to be done before the parish can make a final decision about the project, but Ricks said he feels an airport could be good for the parish in attracting business.
Randy Rogers, executive director of the Livingston Economic Development Council, said an airport capable of handling corporate jets would make the parish more attractive to large companies.
“A lot of businesses like the opportunity to fly right in” with key people or important parts, he said.
Aviation-related businesses tend to locate near airports, Rogers said.
An airport can draw businesses that sell fuel, provide flying lessons, do aircraft mechanic work and paint planes, pilot Cliff Smith said.
He and other local pilots interviewed said they are excited about the possibility of moving their planes to Livingston Parish from other airports.
Smith said local pilots have to drive to Baton Rouge, Hammond or Gonzales, spending a lot of time on the ground before they can take off.