Fish Air Freight in Louisiana Bayou Country

Chennault International Airport in southwest Louisiana is a large aviation property. The former Air Force base has a 3 km long runway, a recently renovated parallel taxiway and 60 acres of concrete tarmac. But when it comes to commercial aircraft activity, it’s puny.

The airport, located at Lake Charles, has become a hub for maintenance, repair and overhaul, but other than a random charter flight carrying a large piece of equipment for the local oil zone, there is no freight activity.

State and local authorities, who wish to expand the range of aeronautical services in Chennault and make it an economic hub, are trying to attract air freight companies interested in an alternative to more congested airports.

Last week, Chennault inaugurated a $ 4 million, 10,000 square foot freight warehouse specializing in the consolidation and deconsolidation of imports and exports. Three-quarters of the funding was allocated by the Legislative Assembly, with the balance paid by the Chennault International Airport Authority.

Officials said they were looking for ground handling companies interested in leasing the facility and marketing it to freight airlines and logistics companies.

They present the airport as a cheaper and faster option for cargo which currently passes through large gangways which have heavy passenger traffic, often resulting in long delays on the ground to reach the runway, delays in air traffic for l landing and long distances to reach the cargo. terminals.

Executive Director Kevin Melton mentioned the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, a two-hour drive west, as a place with traffic problems.

“We can provide a strong incentive cost to operate out of here,” he said in an interview. “I guarantee I can get you from the track to your parking spot much faster than they ever could at any of these spots. And every minute counts when it comes to air freight.

Houston is not usually one of the airport logistics managers mentioned when talking about freight congestion across the country, which often involves crowded freight terminals and trucking infrastructure issues. Companies thinking of Chennault, which has no passenger operations, should weigh a few extra minutes on the tarmac against a long truck ride to and from Lake Charles.

Chennault retained David Whitaker as a consultant to help identify potential industry partners in the times to come. Whitaker spent 22 years with the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, most recently as Commercial Director, before retiring two years ago. CRAA operates two airline facilities in Ohio, including the cargo-focused Rickenbacker International Airport. Whitaker played a major role in Rickenbacker’s transition to regular freight service, starting with Cargolux in 2012.

Clothing was Rickenbacker’s initial staple cargo, but the airport now facilitates the trade of many types of goods. Last year, it hosted nearly 1,000 full cargo flights.

Secondary airports have become increasingly popular, particularly over the past year, when intense air cargo volumes have blocked major hubs such as Chicago O’Hare, Los Angeles, New York JFK and Miami. Many freight forwarders direct chartered cargo ships to Rickenbacker; Chicago Rockford; Pittsburgh; Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina; San Bernardino, California, and other airports.

Trying to start a freight business at a smaller airport outside of major urban or industrial centers is a tall order, say air freight professionals.

But Michael Webber, a consultant who focuses on developing freight-related airports, said Chennault’s speculative investment is worth the risk because it starts out small.

“They have to promote their origin-destination market. But he is of modest stature. No one will be condemned too severely for building a 10,000 square foot facility to specification. So, this is probably an OK business.

“Build it as flexible as possible and install as little custom equipment as possible and you should be fine,” he added.

The director of Webber Air Cargo recommended that Chennault look to bring in other distribution companies, such as local trucking companies or Lake Charles port overflows, which need storage to help cover rent during as the air freight business grows.

Construction of the Chennault freight facility is expected to take 12 to 18 months.

Among Chennault’s service providers is Landlocked Aviation, an aircraft painting company that has refurbished aircraft for Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL), UPS Airlines and Amazon Air, among others. Another company, Citadel Completions, installs interiors on Embraer jets for the Breeze Starter Transporter.

Click here for more FreightWaves / American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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