January 4, 2012

Recognizing the role of business aviation in supporting jobs, economic activity and local investment, St. John the Baptist Parish in south Louisiana will be lengthening its runway by almost 30 percent, so that the facility can accommodate a wider variety of airplanes.

“Our businesses and industries here in St. John’s have been asking for this runway extension for quite some time,” said Joel Chaisson, director of the Port of South Louisiana, which oversees St. John the Baptist Parish Airport. “Some of the smaller company airplanes could use the existing 4,000-foot runway, but this 1,100-foot extension will allow more types of business airplanes and provide better safety for everyone.”

The extension will also complete the Port’s Globalplex Intermodal Terminal, a shipping facility that allows manufacturers and shippers in St. John the Baptist, St. James and St. Charles parishes easy access to highways, railroads and river transportation. (In Louisiana, political subdivisions are called parishes rather than counties.) “And this runway extension will allow us to handle small cargo airplanes,” said Chaisson, “so it makes us completely intermodal.”

Airport manager Rick Moran knows firsthand the importance of his 21-year-old airport for it and the other local businesses and industry that hug the curves of the Mississippi River. He said there have been numerous construction and engineering support businesses that wanted to land at the airport, but couldn’t. During the summer, south Louisiana’s torrid heat and humidity adds to the distances required for aircraft to land and take off.

Major employers in St. John the Baptist Parish include ADM Growmark agricultural processors, the large steel company ArcelorMittal, international provider of food, agricultural and risk management products and services Cargill, maker of material for Kevlar used in bullet-resistant vests DuPont and Marathon Ashland Petroleum.

“I’ve had lots and lots of inquiries over the years from companies wanting to come in here,” said Moran. “They ask about runway length, and they’re disappointed.” He said that the airport does often see smaller business airplanes such as turboprops, smaller Learjets and Cessna Citations land but even they are often unable to add fuel because the extra weight would make them too heavy for a safe takeoff.

The extension of the airport’s runway is only the first step in the approved Airport Master Plan, which calls for future parking apron and terminal expansion, additional business hangars and a fueling station for jet fuel. Existing cargo facilities on the east side of the airport are scheduled for expansion in later Master Plan phases.

“The Parish government and industry leaders around here have known for years that a runway extension would really get this airport moving,” said Moran. “Now that the Port of South Louisiana is behind it, we’re on our way.”