Runway extension may take three years
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 27, 2006
By KEVIN CHIRI
Editor and Publisher
LAPLACE – The road to getting a runway extension for the St. John Airport isn’t something that will happen overnight.
And listening to Gerald Babin, Vice President of Professional Engineering Consultants, it won’t be happening within the next year or so either.
While St. John officials and Port of South Louisiana officials all agree that a runway extension from the present 4,000 to a much-needed 5,000 feet is something which could greatly enhance economic development here, Babin says the process to get those funds from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) takes years to get through.
“Even in pushing this to the top of the priority list for St. John Parish, I would say it will take a minimum of three years to get it here, even if we can get it approved that quickly,” the parish engineering consultant said. “It’s just a very slow process, since you have to do a lot of things to get FAA approval for those funds. And besides that, every small airport in the state is trying to get the same thing.”
Babin’s firm is the consulting company St. John Parish utilizes to manage most aspects of the St. John Airport, in particular getting grants and federal funds for major projects.
Most recently, the firm saw an apron finished to expand two hangars, and is now working on getting funding to improve the lighting system at the airport.
Babin said it was only recently that parish officials have made it clear that the runway extension should be pushed to the top of the priority list.
“St. John has had us pushing for the other things that the FAA wants to see done, which then puts us in a position to seek funds for the runway extension,” he explained. “We’ve always had an eye on extending the runway, but we had to take care of some other things first.”
Babin said that Port of South Louisiana officials have recently contacted him to push for the extension, and said they have three different clients who currently would start bringing bigger planes or jets here if they had the runway to accommodate them.
He estimates the FAA would have to approve “between $2 million and $3 million” for St. John to get the runway extension, and he said the general timeline for that kind of thing is about three years.
“The money is already gone for 2007, so we’re already looking at seeking funds for 2008 projects,” he added.
Professional Engineering Consultants has been hired by St. John Parish since 1999, and has overseen other major projects, such as two runways in 2000, apron work in 2002, reconditioning of the pavement, restripping and land acquisition.
“The runway extension here is now our top priority since we have done some other things the FAA wanted to see finished,” Babin said. “The FAA funds safety issues first, and then wants to see you have a certain number of operations to warrant the longer runway. The extension has to be justified, and we’re trying to show that now.”
Babin said his next meeting with FAA officials would be in the spring of 2007.