NEW IBERIA — Acadiana Regional Airport is in the midst of a $5 million-plus makeover that within the next few years, if projects go as planned, will provide commercial passenger service, give corporate air travelers a place to park and fix planes, and provide a resurfaced, well-lighted runway for night flights.
“We knew 2015 was going to be busy, but we were ready for it,” said airport Director Jason Devillier.
He and his staff run day-to-day operations and, with the Iberia Parish Airport Authority, plans for the long range.
Unlike the larger and busier airport to the northwest, where the Lafayette Regional Airport will spend $90 million over four to five years to build a bigger commercial terminal and other improvements, New Iberia’s airport will finally add commercial passenger service.
Projected to cost $1 million, design drawings for the 50-passenger terminal are to be released for bid within six weeks, with construction to begin in the fall.
“It’ll be no frills, but it’ll be a comfortable, convenient terminal of our limited but scheduled aircraft operations here,” Devillier said.
Airport officials have talked to commercial airlines about providing several round-trip commercial flights a week between Acadiana Regional Airport and George Bush Intercontinental Airport in north Houston. New Iberia’s customer base would be oil and gas personnel from the myriad service companies that dot south Louisiana, and those who want a low-fare flight to and from Houston for fun.
Construction of the terminal was to begin last year but was delayed by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA had concerns with the terminal’s proximity to the airport’s fire fighting facility, which is next door.
Those concerns have been ironed out, Devillier said. Airport personnel will “cone off” the outside area when passengers are getting on or off a plane in case the fire trucks are deployed.
Devillier said terminal construction would take six months or more to complete.
The $1 million it’ll take to build the terminal is included in a pot of over $5 million going to multiple projects scheduled or ongoing.
Funding is from a blend of local, state and federal sources.
The Iberia Parish Homeland Security division is providing $450,000 in FEMA grant money to beef up buildings at the airport used in emergencies, such as the administrative building and the fire station.
The FAA is providing money to buy and install radar equipment in the tower and also is funding much of a $3.2 million refurbishment of the airport’s 8,002-foot main runway. The refurbishment is a yearlong project to resurface and light up the runway for nighttime and inclement weather flights.
The project was to go out for bid May 1 but was delayed by the FAA, Devillier said.
Meanwhile, the Iberia Parish Council is contributing over $1 million collected from a special taxing district in the unincorporated areas of Iberia Parish.
Some of the money is funding work being done now on the airport’s control tower. Contractors are weatherizing the tower by replacing the roof and the glass panes, which provide controllers a 360-degree view of the area around the airport.
Electricians are adding wiring in the tower to handle the increased electricity it’ll take when radar is added and wind gauges and weather equipment is upgraded. Now, as at hundreds of other airports in the U.S., controllers in a “visual tower” guide landing and departing aircraft using their eyes.
Devillier said the radar will enable controllers to direct a heavier load of passenger and cargo flights.
On the airport’s north end, work will begin soon on a $600,000 to $700,000 rehabilitation of an old taxiway to be used for corporate jets and general aviation, where private planes are stored and worked on and where the public can take flight lessons.
Identified in the airport’s master plan, the area near Admiral Doyle Drive and Airport Boulevard was a taxiway built by the Navy during World War II.
“If geometry allows it, you want to keep corporate and general aviation separate from commercial passenger and cargo operations,” Devillier said. “The north end of the airfield is perfect for that development.”
General aviation and corporate aviation will basically have their own designated section with their own entrances on the north end of the airfield.
Hangars would be built by the aircraft-owning corporations who sign long-term leases, by developers or by the airport through federal aid and grants.
“The thought process is if we get all that taxiway infrastructure, get it all pristine, that will hopefully lure corporate aviation to come in and lease some property and build their own hangars,” Devillier said.