BR airport hopes improved system will land cargo carriers

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK - An AUS Airways jet comes in for a landing Friday at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport. The airport is using $11 million in state and federal funds to upgrade the landing system for planes.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK - An AUS Airways jet comes in for a landing Friday at the Baton Rouge Metro Airport. The airport is using $11 million in state and federal funds to upgrade the landing system for planes.

Engineers are designing a new $11 million landing system for Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport, one that officials hope will improve safety and help lure cargo carriers to the airport.

The new system will enable planes to descend farther before deciding whether to attempt to land or not, said Ralph Hennessy, the airport’s assistant director of aviation.

With the current system, known in industry parlance as a Category I, pilots have to decide whether to abort a landing when the plane descends to about 200 feet, Hennessy said. When the new system — a Category II — is installed, planes will be able to descend to about 100 feet before making a decision he said.

“This is for foggy, rainy weather,” Hennessy said. “There are times when in the morning, we have thick fog and we take delays or cancelled flights because planes can’t get in until later in the day.”

Few passenger jets are equipped with Category II equipment, Hennessy said.

But it’s especially important to cargo carriers such as Fedex and UPS, he said.

No major cargo carriers are using Baton Rouge’s airport, Hennessy said.

Fedex used the Baton Rouge airport from 2006 to 2009, when the U.S. Postal Service had a major mail sorting facility in Baton Rouge, he said.

“It’s something they desired that we didn’t have,” Hennessy said of Fedex and a Category II system. “It’s still on their wish list.”

Mike Mangeot, a spokesman for UPS, said in an email that a Category II system is important to protect the safety of crews and cargo.

“We do much of our flying at night, when darkness naturally impacts visibility. If you add in a storm, fog or low cloud ceiling, visibility can diminish even further,” he said.

Jim McCluskey, a spokesman for Fedex, said only that safety was paramount and that the company is a “proponent of proven effective systems that can improve aviation safety.”

Fedex and UPS already both have major locations in New Orleans and Lafayette, Hennessy said. There had been discussions of consolidating a postal sorting facility in Baton Rouge, which may help bring a cargo carrier, he said.

“We are just looking at preparations for if they do come back,” Hennessy said.

A cargo facility on the west side of the airport could be used to house them, he said.

None of the $11 million to design and install the new system is coming from the airport’s self-generated revenue, Hennessy said.

About $5 million came from the Federal Aviation Administration, which paid for most of the equipment, including antennas and other equipment to measure visibility and distance, he said.

Another $6 million is coming from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to get the system designed and built, Hennessy said.

“Realistically, we are about a year and a half out” from having the system up and running, he said. “The engineers just started working on the design.”

When the system is installed, it will be used only on one of the airports three runways, he said.