Lafayette, LA (KPLC) - The following is a news release from Lafayette Regional Airport:
Lafayette Regional Airport is closing the book on a piece of history, as the airport will soon begin demolition of the hangar where the Fournet Air Service conducted business as the airport's fixed base operator (FBO) for decades.
The hangar, built in the early 1940s, is in a state of decay and will be torn down soon to make way for future airport expansion. However, the local aviation community remembers a time when Paul Fournet Air Service was one of the busiest FBOs in the country.
Tommy Rogers, who once served as vice president of operations for Paul Fournet Air Service and is the current owner of The Radio Shop at Lafayette Regional Airport, has been working in general aviation at the airport for 61 years.
"The hangar started out as a training facility for the Army Air Corps in 1942," says Rogers. "Instructors there taught flight training to hundreds of pilots who would later go overseas to fight in World War II."
Paul Fournet ended up as a pilot during the war. According to Rogers, Fournet flew photoreconnaissance in the Pacific theater, including flights to photograph the destruction after the nuclear detonation over Hiroshima, Japan, near the end of the war.
Rogers says that following the war, the operation of the hangar was turned over to the airport and Fournet acquired it in 1952.
It became one of the busiest FBOs in Louisiana, second only to Lakefront Airport in New Orleans. The FBO serviced the oil and gas industry with a fleet of amphibious floatplanes that flew workers to rigs all across the Gulf Coast.
In 1953, Fournet started a flight school that trained hundreds of pilots in conjunction with the ROTC and what was then the University of Southwestern Louisiana. Many of the pilots went on to become Air Force pilots and commercial airline pilots, and many of them still fly today.
Rogers says the FBO diversified during the 1960s, becoming one of the top sellers of Cessna aircraft in the United States.
Rogers says the hangar became a Mecca of sorts for pilots from all across the country.
"Over the years, pilots would stop here on their way to other airports just to talk about aviation. We also had our share of celebrity passengers who came here. Richard Nixon, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan all came to the hangar. Edward Kennedy would come through all the time on his way to visit his father-in-law. Apollo astronauts Alan Shepard and Jim Lovell would also come by on their way to Houston," Rogers said.
He remembers coming out of the hangar one day to see Willie Nelson sitting there waiting on a ride. On another occasion, Rogers remembers talking with singer Johnny Mathis who was also sitting in the lobby waiting to be picked up.
Paul Fournet died in 1989, and his son Richard ran the business until it closed in 2007. Rogers says the Acadiana aviation community still fondly recalls Paul and his FBO.
"Paul always used to say that aviation was his hobby and he was lucky enough to make a living from it," Rogers said.
Tim Skinner, a pilot and member of the Lafayette Airport Commission, says the Fournet family has made an unsurpassed contribution to the local aviation community and to the airport as well: