LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The Chennault International Airport—it’s been a part of Lake Charles for over 70 years, but some may not know that it’s more than just an airport.
In 1941, the U.S. government bought and leased the property from Calcasieu Parish for military use. The site was called Lake Charles Air Force Base; later to be named Chennault Air Force Base after General Claire Chennault, the leader of the famed Flying Tigers squadron of WWII. The facility eventually closed in 1963.
In the mid-1980s, local residents wanted to re-develop Chennault for economic purposes, which took place in 1986-1987.
It was named the Chennault International Airport. Since it’s re-development, it has brought in over $7 billion in economic impact.
“One great thing about economic diversification is we aren’t reliant on one particular industry," says Chennault’s executive director Kevin Melton. "One area that Chennault can bring to the table as far as growth is economic diversity.”
According to Melton, Chennault has exceeded $300 million in economic impact annually; $80 million of that in payroll. Chennault currently employs around 1,500 people.
Chennault’s tenants have had a major hand in the development.
Northrop Grumman – Builds and maintains military surveillance aircraft for the United States Air Force.
“Northrop Grumman does a lot, but basically we solve problems,” Jewell Tessier, vice president of Northrup Grumman’s Center of Excellence said. “The first part of that would be; we provide innovative solutions as a high-tech and leading global security provider. We provide those solutions to government and corporate entities around the world. Here in Lake Charles, we have a maintenance and modification center that does aircraft sustainment. We have been here over two decades and we are the center for excellence for the company.”
Citadel Completions – Chennault’s newest tenant, provides full scale, custom luxury interior modifications for aircraft.
“We have two primary lines of business,” Joseph Bonita, managing director of Citadel Completions said. “The initial line is VIP interior completions for private individuals who own aircraft, government, heads of state, or corporate aircraft. We also do traditional maintenance repair and overhaul; typical aircraft maintenance tasks that the aircraft need.”
“So, Landlocked Aviation paints aircraft, big re-finishers of aircraft," president and owner Tyson Grenzebach said, "So, they get painted at the factory and, over time, they need fresh paint jobs and that’s what we do; a lot of government projects, a lot of military work, we do a lot of work with the Navy and Air Force, a lot of commercial work. We have a contract with Delta Airlines that we are very proud of.”
Million Air – Provides several amenities, including charter operations and general aviation services to those who land at Chennault.
“First of all, we are line service technicians," says Joe Torres, general manager for Million Air Lake Charles. "They are bringing in the aircraft’s safely. We talk to the pilots and crew to see what they need and we provide that out on the ramp. Then, when those individuals go inside our facility, it is a pretty luxurious type of environment. We are selling customer service.”
Bechtel – Global engineering, construction, and project management company.
Louisiana Millwork – A start-up company in Southwest Louisiana that is a major building materials manufacturer and supplier in the Louisiana and eastern Texas markets. Louisiana Millwork supplies a growing line of products to the independently-owned retail lumber and building material companies.
Habitat for Humanity – Non-profit that builds homes for those in need.
Chennault also recently renovated and re-opened their runway, which executive director Kevin Melton calls ‘the lynchpin for success at Chennault’. At 10,700 feet long, or just over two miles long, it is the longest runway from Cape Kennedy, Florida to Houston, Texas.
While celebrating the completion of renovations, officials said, in an area where LNG and petrochemical are king, Chennault represents growth, diversification, and jobs.
“Chennault is here to stay," Melton said. "We are growing and we are thriving. Our core values talk about growth and that is what we are here to do. We are here to grow within the community, for the community, and for the state of Louisiana.”