Chennault on the Grow

Air Cargo, Blue Angels and More

On any given day, aircraft of all shapes and sizes land at Chennault International Airport in northeast Lake Charles. Many stop for rest and fuel, while others come for repairs and modifications in one of the facility’s towering hangars.

Originally constructed in WWII as a military air base, Chennault is now a multi-use airfield and business community. Its runway — at 2 miles long — can handle any aircraft in the world and occasionally hosts Air Force One.

The airport and its tenants employ some 1,500 people, a number that’s expected to grow as new companies arrive and current tenants expand their operations.

Growing Chennault Park

Back in 2018, two events signaled a phase shift for Chennault: Citadel Completions announced a $17.6 million capital investment in a new interior jet modifications center at the airport, and Chennault and the City of Lake Charles completed an agreement for the airport to acquire Mallard Cove Golf Course for new development.

Armed with new land and a promising new tenant, Chennault started actively looking for ways to grow. The airport authority engaged consulting firm CSRS, along with commercial real estate companies NAI Latter & Blum and Cushman & Wakefield, to market the Chennault business community under the new name “Chennault Park” to prospective tenants worldwide.

Since then, several sites have been successfully leased:

  • Site 1 Leased to National Guard: The US Army National Guard has leased 63 acres at Site 1.
  • Site 2 Leased to Wildlife and Fisheries: Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries is expected to break ground on a new administrative building in 2020 at Site 2.
  • New Air Cargo Facility: A groundbreaking is set for 2020 on a $4 million, 10,000 square feet air cargo facility. The demand for air cargo has dramatically increased as companies like Amazon drive business online. Chennault — with its 2-mile runway, uncongested airspace and ample room for development — is uniquely equipped to handle air cargo.
  • New Cabinet Shop for Citadel: Citadel Completions recently committed to a property lease to house a 70,000 square feet shop to support their expanding operations. The project, which begins this quarter, will provide real estate for cabinet making and aircraft composite repairs, enabling Citadel to work on newer aircraft, such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350

Chennault is also actively looking for investors to build additional hangars for smaller general aviation airplanes, and to grow retail and other services adjacent to the airport.

“These opportunities will fuel the fire for continued economic growth and intertwine with our efforts to invigorate this north Lake Charles community,” said Kevin Melton, the airport’s executive director.

Anticipated growth at Chennault is expected to generate up to $780 million in sales tax revenue for the parish and up to $1.1 billion in sales tax revenue for the state over the coming decades.

Chennault Park’s current tenants include Northrop Grumman, Million Air, Landlocked Aviation Services, Masonite/Louisiana Millwork, Habitat for Humanity and Citadel Completions — with ample room for new development.

Tenants benefit from nearby access to a deep water port, rail and interstate highways.

New Entryway In 2020

In November, 2019, Lake Charles City Council members voted unanimously on an agreement with Chennault to widen the main entryway to the airport — the Merganser Street corridor — from two lanes to four lanes.

The $1.6 million project, funded by Chennault, is a major step toward preparing the airport for future growth. Expansion of the roadway is needed to allow easier access for 18-wheelers en route to Chennault, and will also improve access to SOWELA Technical Community College and the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s Office training academy.

The entryway upgrade is part of Chennault’s effort to prepare the facility for expansion — a process that includes the upgrading of roads, water and sewer. The effort relies on the support of the city, parish and state.

Spotlight: Landlocked Aviation Services

Aircraft painting and refinishing company Landlocked Aviation Services had a busy 2019, ending the year with a slate of new customers, including:

  • Air Transport International (ATI) aircraft in Amazon Prime Livery
  • Certified Aircraft Maintenance (CAM) aircraft in UPS Livery
  • Mesa Airlines in Mesa Livery
  • Northrop Grumman aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force.

Landlocked has long been a preferred aircraft paint services provider for Delta Airlines, a partnership that continues to grow. Reed Friese, head of operations and planning for Landlocked, said 2020 will be the “busiest year yet painting Delta aircraft.”

“We feel very fortunate to have a customer like Delta Airlines and we are honored that they put a lot of their airplanes and trust in us,” said Friese.

Friese said Landlocked “continues to enjoy success at Chennault.” The company employs 120 people in Lake Charles and plans to grow by nearly 20 percent to keep up with the work backlog.

“In 2019, we invested heavily in our culture, image, campus, skill and quality in preparation for a very exciting 2020 and beyond,” said Friese. “Our mission is simply to continuously improve and have fun doing it.”

Spotlight: Citadel Completions

Citadel Completions provides interior refurbishment along with maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for luxury-outfitted VIP/VVIP aircraft.

Company leaders say they’re staying busy, with steady business from interior refurbishment projects as well as traditional maintenance and repair work.

The company’s current hangar space, more than 260,000 square feet, allows them to accommodate multiple projects simultaneously. To date, Citadel has redelivered 10 aircraft, including B737, B767, B747 airframes.

In addition to the company’s new 70,000 square foot facility that is soon to be underway, Citadel recently unveiled its new interior design center. This state-of-the-art facility showcases supplier displays and samples and has presentation areas, software tools and meeting spaces to facilitate all ranges of custom interior designs.

“Citadel’s growth warrants abundant employment opportunities and economic prosperity for the local community,” said Joe Bonita, managing director at Citadel. “Since Citadel’s inception in March, 2018, we have grown to 147 employees, consisting of aircraft technicians of multiple disciplines, skilled craftsmen, designers and those in administrative roles.”

Blue Angels To Headline Airshow 2021

The U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels will headline the Chennault International Airshow in 2021. The jet team will be the centerpiece of the event, which takes place June 4-6, 2021, at Chennault International Airport. Airshow Executive Director Mary Jo Bayles made the announcement in December, 2019, when she returned from the annual International Council of Air Shows conference in Las Vegas. Efforts to bring this team back to Southwest Louisiana had been in the works for years.

The Airshow has been held biennially — in odd-numbered years — since the longtime local tradition was revived in 2013. There is no show in 2020.

Check for more details in the future. Those interest – ed in volunteering are encouraged to visit the website to learn more or sign up.

Self-Serve Gas

Chennault’s fixed-base operator, Million Air, has long been a favorite among pilots looking to stop in, eat a hot meal and relax in an upscale setting while their aircraft are being refueled.

Now, thanks to a self-serve pump installed earlier this year, visiting pilots have the option to fuel their own tanks at a lower price — making Chennault one of the lowest-cost gas stops in the state.

Providing “superior service to every customer that lands here,” said Melton, is one of the many ways the airport is seek – ing to stay relevant to the general aviation community.

Training And Education

As part of its commitment to be – coming a “center of education and excellence,” the airport hosts a number of events throughout the year.

In December, 2019, the airport held a safety seminar and pancake breakfast presented by the Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team (FAASTeam). In November, 2019, a group of 45 students from Oak Park Elementary School toured Chennault as part of their science program and learned about the mechanics of flight.

Other events that Chennault hosted last year include a two-day safety training course for airport personnel from across the state; a medevac rescue course for area first responders led by members of Fort Polk’s “Cajun Dustoff”; and quarterly fly-ins and safety seminars.

“Chennault is here for the community,” said Melton. “As such, we offer tours as workload allows, with a focus on our schools. Getting our youth excited about Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) and education as a whole is important. In fact, it will only make our community more marketable as we put an emphasis on the development of our students.”

Busy 2019 — Bright Future

Melton called 2019 “a very busy year for Chennault” and said he looks forward to seeing more tangible results in 2020.

“Our Chennault team, which includes a cohesive and supportive board of com – missioners, is fired up about our growth potential,” said Melton. “We are driving hard to ensure benchmark and safe airport services are never compromised, while at the same time exploring all opportunities to grow. I’m proud to call Chennault my airport. I hope you are proud to call it yours, as well.”

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