From the terminal at Chennault International Airport in Lake Charles, La., Randy Robb views the largest aircraft in the world landing for sophisticated aerospace services. Robb serves as executive director of the airport, where business is taking off.
[EQ] What makes Chennault a compelling site for aerospace companies?
[Robb] The aviation infrastructure at Chennault is the primary reason for aerospace interest. We have 10,700-by-200 feet of usable runway that can land the largest aircraft built today. The runway is wide and flat — and made of 17-inch concrete — which makes it excellent for flight-test activity. Our uncluttered airspace makes Chennault optimal for aerospace operations.
[EQ] Give us a sense of the magnitude of the AAR Corp. maintenance project.
[Robb] AAR is the largest aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) organization in the United States and the No. 3 MRO in the world. It has ties to airlines, leasing companies and aircraft manufacturers around the world. AAR’s intent is to make Chennault its widebody aircraft repair site. Over the years, based on current and projected infrastructure, we believe AAR could grow to more than 1,500 employees here.
[EQ] Tell us about Chennault’s new hangar that it is building in partnership with the state.
Robb: Hangar H has 112,000 square feet of space capable of housing C-5 or A-380-sized aircraft. Its “mega doors” raise and lower like Venetian blinds to provide more room for aircraft inside the hangar. A 6,000-square-foot annex, LED lighting, mobile work stands and large fans make it a functional workspace for any type of aircraft. And we have more property available to build more hangars for uses from aircraft manufacturing to repair.
[EQ] What shaped Chennault as the site of Northrup Grumman’s KC-10 air tanker work?
[Robb] Northrup Grumman came to Chennault for assistance in competing for the KC-10 program. It needed hangar, equipment and infrastructure support. The state contributed $7 million and Chennault added just over $1 million to support its bid. It made the majority of the infrastructure upgrades prior to the first KC-10 arriving on site.
[EQ] What workforce assets bolster aviation at Chennault?
[Robb] SOWELA Technical Community College has a first-class aviation program on its campus adjacent to Chennault. It partners with industries in creating training programs from accounting to welding. The state’s LED FastStart® workforce development program also provides training for our tenants.
[EQ] What is driving aerospace in Louisiana?
[Robb] Louisiana is focused on science and technology-related industries with the potential of providing well-paying jobs for their employees.
[EQ] Do projects like Bell’s new helicopter-assembly site in Lafayette create a positive ripple effect for Chennault?
[Robb] The more aviation industry in the state, the more companies will look to do aviation and other business here. The industry will grow in our region because of infrastructure, workforce training and state and local incentives, including the level of teamwork between the state and local government.