LAFAYETTE — The hangar is now gone, the one that bore Paul Fournet’s name and marked the spot where his air transportation business and pilot school flourished for decades.
So on Tuesday, Lafayette Regional Airport officials unveiled a monument to make sure air travelers entering and leaving the airport know Fournet’s name.
Adorned on marble at the entrance to the airport is the title “Paul Fournet Field,” which the airport now officially calls its airfield.
Fournet died in 1992, leaving a name well-known among aviators and a family whose numbers include great-grandchildren. Thirty-five of them were on hand for the dedication Tuesday, representing at least three generations.
“Everyone called him Chief,” said daughter Catherine Hitchcock.
Hitchcock described a man whose shoulders were made broader and his arms thicker from wheeling around in a wheelchair, the result of a crash while piloting a plane on takeoff from the Lafayette airport in 1950.
Undaunted, Fournet started Paul Fournet Air Service two years later. Its corporate logo featured wings and a wheelchair.
Fournet’s company became iconic in Lafayette, and it grew to Louisiana’s second-largest fixed-base operator — FBO in aviation speak. At the company’s height, Fournet employed 132 people.
Fournet pioneered offshore oil and gas worker and logistics transport, flying amphibious floater planes to Gulf of Mexico production platforms and drilling rigs.
“The oil and gas industry is stronger because of the efforts of Paul Fournet,” said his grandson, Ben Broussard, who works for the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association.
Airport Commissioner Tim Skinner worked for Fournet while in college in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
“Paul always had a strong sense of honor,” Skinner said.
Skinner said Fournet’s father had a biblical aversion to killing — thou shall not kill meant don’t kill for any reason — so after Pearl Harbor was attacked and the country entered World War II, Fournet learned to fly, then flew reconnaissance missions instead of fighter planes.
Later, when he built the hangar emblazoned with the iconic “Paul Fournet Air Service” over the doors, Fournet placed his office near the front, Skinner said.
“Most owners and presidents hide their offices in the back, upstairs by the back door. … He wanted to be at the front door, where customers would greet him,” Skinner said.
Fournet’s company performed a range of services: ferrying people and supplies to work sites; fueling and maintaining private aircraft docked at the airport; and flight training for men and women who wanted to become licensed pilots, a school he started in 1953.
The flight school “trained hundreds of pilots in conjunction with the ROTC and what was then the University of Southwestern Louisiana,” Robert Callahan, with Sides & Associates, said in a news release.
“Many of the pilots went on to become Air Force pilots and commercial airline pilots, and many of them still fly today,” Callahan said.
The hangar was torn down in 2013 to make way for the planned new commercial passenger terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
“He always said the airport was the gateway to Lafayette,” Hitchcock said.