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Louisiana airport works to support auto, petrochemical

By Adina Solomon on March 18, 2014

Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, Louisiana, is not a typical airport. It focuses almost solely on just-in-time cargo.

This involves supporting auto plants in Mississippi and Alabama and Lake Charles’ large petrochemical industry, including Cheniere Energy’s local project to convert natural gas to diesel. The airport receives a lot of parts from Mexico to support the plants.

Chennault also periodically receives cargo overflow from Houston and New Orleans if those airports are backed up.

“So [with] all of these things, one little hiccup if we don’t get parts,” Randy Robb, Chennault International Airport executive director, says. “That’s really kind of our niche, I guess you could call it. We don’t have scheduled passenger airlines, so we don’t have belly traffic and commercial scheduled airlines.”

The petrochemical and auto industries collectively approached Chennault about the airport offering more just-in-time support as those industries grow in the region.

“This region, because of the amount of natural gas in our region, we’re expanding at an incredible rate, anywhere between 40 and 60 billion – that’s billion with a B – in projects locally,” Robb says. “We’re all working together to try to make not only this growth but this sustainability after the growth work.”

Chennault is planning to build a 10,000-square-foot air cargo building that’s expandable to almost 10 times that amount.

“As we grow through this process, we may get into a little more air cargo capability,” Robb says. “So although it starts small, it has the capability of growing quite large.”

The airport will also build a 15,000-square-foot corporate hangar and ground support equipment facility for Million Air, which does ground handling at the facility, and a second hangar to support the growth of AAR Corp., an aviation support company.

Robb says the corporate hangar will cost US$3.5 million (2.5 million euros) to build, the AAR hangar will cost US$20 million (14.5 million euros) and the air cargo building will cost US$4.2 million (3 million euros).

Chennault flies 10 tonnes of cargo per year and expects it to rise to 20-30 tonnes after its construction projects.

“We aren’t big time yet,” he says.

Chennault is also fixing its operation for bringing trucks into the airport. Right now, trucks must drive inside the airport fence in order to carry cargo to planes, Robb says.

“We thought, ‘We’ve really got to do something here,’” he says. “Our real goal is to separate the truck traffic from the airside traffic.”

In addition, the airport is adding a turnaround for 767-sized or 757-sized airplanes.

Eventually, Chennault wants to have refrigerated storage, especially for the movement of flowers.

Robb says construction will begin in September and will be done February 2015.