Chennault’s origins date back to its use as a Cold War-era Air Force base.
The facility known today as Chennault International Airport was once a centerpiece of our nation’s defense. The U.S. federal government bought and leased Calcasieu Parish property for military use in 1941 for World War II and again in 1958, for the future Strategic Air Command installation.
The site was named Lake Charles Air Force Base and later Chennault Air Force Base in honor of General Claire Chennault, leader of the famed Flying Tigers squadron of World War II. The base brought new people to Lake Charles, many of whom stayed after the facility closed in 1963.
In the early 1970s, Chennault was divided and parceled out. In 1973, several local governmental bodies were given restricted deeds to various parts of the site, creating multiple owners.
Chennault helped lead Lake Charles out of the 1980s oil bust, when unemployment was at an all-time high.
By the mid-1980s the locals proposed to re-develop Chennault for economic purposes. The most marketable features were the unusually large runway and extensive property for potential tenants. At 10,700 feet long, 200 feet wide and 17 inches thick, the tarmac is equipped for the largest aircraft in the world.
The reconstituting of Chennault took place in 1986 and 1987, and it was a partnership of unprecedented proportion as local governments agreed to pool their shares of the site for the sake of desperately needed jobs.
The effort extended beyond Calcasieu Parish as well. In Baton Rouge, Gov. Edwin Edwards secured more than $40 million from the state legislature for infrastructure work. In Washington, D.C., Lake Charles Mayor Ed Watson and Sen. John Breaux were among those who promoted lifted restrictions, which allowed for economic enterprise at the dormant Chennault site.
By the end of 1986, the facility had re-emerged as Chennault International Airport and featured a governing board, a busy schedule of site improvements, and job training programs at Sowela.
Chennault now boasts over 30 years of service to military, aircraft and non-aviation customers alike.
1,000 people work at tenant businesses at Chennault.
Chennault’s skies see more than 3,000 operations each month, including takeoffs, landings and “touch-and-go” operations.
Companies like Northrop Grumman, Citadel Completions Landlocked Aviation, Million Air and Louisiana Millwork keep the grounds at Chennault a busy and prosperous hub.
Chennault has invested over $32 million in capital improvement projects over the last five years, including a complete rehabilitation of its main runway and taxiway, which earned it the title of 2017 Airport of the Year.
Chennault is in the process of expanding its footprint. We’re excited about our current and pending operations, and have high hopes for the future of our airport and industrial park.