Aucoin: Airport connects region to worldwide community

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Only a few years ago, St. John the Baptist Parish Airport in Reserve served pilots primarily as a recreational airfield.

Most of the flying took place in the late afternoons, after work schedules and on weekends. Not quite 20 miles west of New Orleans, its principal landmark was a “spaceship looking orange cone,” as one individual phrased it, rising out of sugarcane on the west side of the airport across from the Marathon Oil Refinery.

That “spaceship looking orange cone,” still generates interest and a common question among friends, family or co-workers sharing the car ride on Airline Highway – “What is that thing?”

The “orange cone” is a navigation radio used by local pilots in St. John and airliners flying seven miles above us en route between cities in the United States, South America and Canada.

It’s called a VOR/DME, or unabbreviated -“Very-high Omnidirectional Radio/Direction Measuring Equipment.”

Thank goodness for abbreviations!

Its presence demonstrates that in more ways than you might expect, our River Parishes community serves the globe.

Over the next several years, large international and domestic industrial development in the River Parishes is forecasted to be in the billions of dollars.

The Port of South Louisiana wants to make sure our region is the preferred choice for long-term business investment when competing with other areas of the United States.

One of the ways to accomplish this is to operate a general aviation airport close to passenger ground destinations that is capable of supporting larger business aircraft, including jets.

Mission accomplished! Today, this same airfield in Reserve, which has been renamed Port of South Louisiana Executive Regional Airport, gets a great deal more use.

It is now a full service airport for small (and not-so-small) jets transporting as many as 20-business passengers and executives per flight to the industries located along the Mississippi River.

Its convenient proximity to everything our community offers, and for that matter everything west of New Orleans, is an undeniable attraction.

A common public misconception about flying is airlines provide the only means of practical air transportation.

Contrarily, for communities similar in size and scope to St. John the Baptist Parish, commercial airline service is remote, limited or not existent for hundreds of miles.

However, general aviation and business aviation aircraft are able to reach these communities on a daily basis by utilizing facilities such as Executive Regional Airport.

Of the sixty-eight public airports located in Louisiana, only seven provide commercial airline service.

The other 61 are general aviation airports catering to aircraft in a fashion similar to Executive Regional Airport.

This is a valuable asset for future Parish economic development.

General aviation airports also provide and host educational programs to communities. For instance, two of the recent events hosted by Executive Regional were the St. John Aviation Appreciation Day in May and the “Pilots-n-Paws” fly in, recently featured in June.

Pilots-n-Paws is an all-volunteer flying organization that arranges for local animal shelters, including the St. John Animal Shelter, to reach out to potential pet owners across the country, outside of the normal reach of local animal shelters, to find homes for pets.

This mission is executed by pilots who donate time and aircraft to the task of transporting animals by air to a new home.

The result is a substantial savings of public funds that would normally be spent housing and with all options exhausted, eventually euthanizing these dogs.

Another critical airport function is support in times of natural disaster or local emergency.

Executive Regional maintains a 24-hour aerial doorway for every responder from FEMA to the Louisiana National Guard when other means of transportation such as flooded roadways have been compromised.

This new business formula has paid off. The Port of South Louisiana Executive Regional Airport has become a popular destination for personal flying, small business support, corporate and charter flight services into our region.

In no small measure a big winner in this success is St. John Parish. Nearly every dollar spent and associated tax revenue generated by an airport visitor, be it at a restaurant for lunch, an extended hotel stay, or a capital investment, is new revenue for the Parish and our community.

Paul Aucoin is executive director of the Port of South Louisiana. For more information, call 985-652-9278.