Kevin Melton aims to expand and grow Chennault International Airport

Kevin Melton took over the helm as executive director of Chennault International Airport Authority in April. Melton said Chennault has the longest runway of all airports located between Houston and Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Kevin Melton is on a mission with one goal in mind: growth.

Melton, a retired Air Force colonel who served in the military for 24 years and later worked as a project manager for American Airlines, took over the helm as executive director of Chennault International Airport Authority in April.

“My objective is to take us to the next level,” he said. “The team at Chennault has been doing great work but we’ve got to think bigger, we’ve got to think globally, we have to think ahead to the future. Where do we want to see ourselves not just a year from now, but five years, 10 years, 30 years from now?”

To do that, he said, the facility’s focus must be on economic development.

“Economic development is what we’re all about,” Melton said. “How do we do that? By bringing business, making sure our existing tenants are taken care of and we focus on the basics, which is safe and compliant airfield and airport operations.”

Melton said over the course of the past five years, the facility has spent $32 million on recapitalization projects to the airfield to sustain it for the next 30 years. Some of those improvements included converting a taxiway to a backup runway; the rehabilitation of the main runway with new concrete, lighting and blast pad; and construction of a new building for Louisiana Millwork (Masonite).

“We want the people in the community to understand that this is a real airport here, and that there are real significant national security-level issues that are going on,” he said. “With Northrop Grumman, they completely tear down one of our nation’s best assets from an intelligence capability in our Air Force jets.”

Another tenant, Landlocked Aviation Services, paints commercial air carriers.

“On any given day you’ll see Delta, Continental and United jets being repainted and receiving basic maintenance at Chennault,” he said.

The airport’s newest tenant, Citadel Completions, will be taking over Hangar H and plans to invest $17.6 million on a new aircraft center dedicated to interior modifications and maintenance for luxury and commercial aircraft.

“They’ll come in and retrofit the Donald Trump-type of airplanes and above,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunities here.”

Melton said the airport has an annual economic impact of $300 million and more than $7 billion since 1986.

The airport, which encompasses 1,554 acres, has nearly 700 acres of undeveloped land available for growth. Melton said the facility has entered a contract with Cushman & Wakefield and NAI Latter & Blum to market the land, which includes Mallard Cove, to global investors.

“Right now the airport keeps roughly 1,500 employees across all the tenants, but we want to grow that,” he said. “We want to grow Chennault to be a bigger economic driver not just for Lake Charles, but for the region. Ultimately, my vision, is for Chennault to be the hub for aviation activity.”

He said Chennault is positioned strategically because of its multi-move capability. He said the facility’s master plan, which is coordinated through the Department of Transportation and Development and the Federal Aviation Administration, calls for bringing in distribution capabilities and building cold storage facilities.

“We have easy access to multi-move,” he said. “We have a rail that goes all around the airport so we’re looking at where Mallard Cove is now and developing some kind of distribution or storage facilities or something along those lines that will allow us to get rail into that area. We’ve got access to a major taxiway through there and we have direct access to jets so we have those two pieces of the puzzle — rail and air. We also have the port that’s close to us and obviously we have access to Interstate 210 and I-10.”

The master plan also calls for bringing in more maintenance repair organizations to the facility.

“I want to look at building our general aviation footprint,” he said. “We’re taking off the blinders to make sure that we’re really exploring all opportunities to bring growth into the area.”

Melton said the success of Chennault will depend on collaboration.

“We want to make sure the local taxpayer understands what his and her dollars are going for and how it can support the community and grow the community and where’s the return on investment for the community,” he said. “It doesn’t happen overnight but through a collaborative effort and through a bit of foresight and good strategic thinking there are certainly opportunities here for Chennault that we want to capitalize on.”

Melton said Chennault has the longest runway of all airports located between Houston and Cape Canaveral, Fla., and was named the FAA Louisiana Airport of the Year in 2017.

“But we’re not going to rest on our laurels,” he said. “We have even more reason to work even harder to prove that we’re one of the best out there but make sure we grow to that next level and don’t get caught flat-footed.”

Air show

Melton said family is important to Chennault “and that’s why economic development is so incredibly important because we want Lake Charles and the region to be the place to come for families to grow and thrive.”

One of the family-focused events Chennault is looking forward to hosting is its 2019 air show.

“It’s still in the early stages, but we have gotten confirmation from the Canadian Snow Birds that they are definitely coming,” he said.

Melton said his plan is to make the 2019 air show even bigger and better than the last one.

“Historically, they’ve all been wonderful but I would like to create that ‘wow’ factor for our local community,” he said.

Melton said the air show serves as a recruiting tool for young people interested in aviation, STEM-related fields or military service.

“We want to create an excitement about aviation and STEM,” he said. “We want to make education as a whole a big, big focus of the air show.”

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