St. Landry airport moving toward ‘endless possibilities’

Monday, February 17, 2020

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More and more people who fly for business or pleasure are beginning to discover Ahart Field, the St. Landry Parish airport, and are liking what they find. That’s leading toward the possibility of fiscal independence for the once-struggling airfield, and fueling an ambitious vision for David Allen, who is closing in on one year as the facility’s manager.

            During that year the airport has cut in half operational funding needed from the parish general fund, moved to claim federal grants for capital improvements that were available but unclaimed, and begun to see the possibility of sustaining itself on its own revenue in the not too distant future.

            One measure of that growth is at the fuel pump where, Allen says, sales were double what was projected for January and midway through the month were on track for a “very good February.” The growth in fuel sales is a reflection of a steady increase in landings over the last year.            

            “People who used to fly to Lafayette are landing here because of lower fuel costs, less hassle, and good service,” he says. “The word is getting out.” In addition to civilian aircraft, four military helicopters used the field during a recent cross-country jaunt and military planes are becoming more frequent visitors.

            The airport can easily accommodate single- and twin-engine aircraft and small and mid-sized private jets. “You can bring in the basic corporate jets here,” Allen said. “We have a lot of runway space for a regional airport.”

            The 537-acre facility opened as a public airport in October 1947. It is just two miles from downtown Opelousas and is centrally located for travelers to other parish communities. It has two concrete runways: Runway 18/36, which runs north-south, is 5,999 feet long, and runway 6/24, which runs roughly northeast-southwest, is 4,051 feet long. The spotless terminal building offers all of the amenities expected by a traveler.

            A series of recent events helped reintroduce the airport to local consumers and to aviators and continuing to increase that traffic count is his highest priority right now, but Allen sees a lot more than runways when he looks out of his office window.

            He sees about twenty private hangars built on leased lots next to the airport’s taxiways, and at least that many lots available for lease to others who want to build them. He sees commercial tenants such as Air Evac, a medical transport company, and Acadiana Interiors, which rejuvenates aircraft cabins. And he sees significant acreage ready for development as an industrial park.

            The biggest part of some $600,000 in grant money from the FAA will be used to build more than two miles of fencing to better secure the airport perimeter, but Allen wants to use some of it to begin the design and layout of a future Ahart Air Park.

            “First, we’ve got to take care of the airport itself,” he says. “But we’ve got endless

potential here,” he says, “Why not an industrial park with offices, businesses, and mechanic and paint and avionics shops geared to the aviation industry?” He says the industry is expanding, and Ahart Field has much to offer if it can be properly developed.

            “My main concern is to work with and for the community to help build jobs and the economy,” he said. “I see endless possibilities, and we need to capitalize on them. There is no reason why this place cannot have 500 people coming to work here every day.”

 

Three things to know about this story:

  • The airport has cut in half operational funding needed from the parish general fund.
  • It doubled its projection for fuel sales in January and midway through the month was on track for a “very good February.”
  • People who used to fly to Lafayette are landing here because of lower fuel costs, less hassle, and good service.

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