Airport celebrates flight, coming terminal with day of events

Aaron Looney
In foreground, Justin Patterson, 3, of Gonzales and Anthony Jackson, 2, of Monroe examine a model airplane after it flew in a demonstration during Saturday’s Gonzales Aviation Celebration event at Louisiana Regional Airport. The day’s event included precision landing competition for small, single-engine planes, demonstrations and other events. It also marked the groundbreaking for a new terminal building.

Hundreds of people braved hot temperatures Saturday morning to point their eyes skyward.

The Louisiana Regional Airport in Gonzales hosted the large crowd as part of the Gonzales Aviation Celebration event, which also served as a groundbreaking celebration for the facility’s new administration building.

With nearly 100 aircraft stationed at the facility, the airport is in the top tier of general aviation airports in the state. The facility serves a five-parish area as well as a recreational outlet for amateur pilots.

The day began with a spot landing competition, where incoming pilots attempted to make a clean landing nearest to an aimpoint, followed by the groundbreaking ceremony held by the Ascension-St. James Airport and Transportation Authority

“This has been a long time coming,” Authority Chairman Nicky Prejean said. “This airport’s life began in 1985. It was constructed in 1987. We’ve been in this trailer home for 15-plus years. It served us well.”

Funding for the new terminal came through a $300,000 Senate appropriation bill pushed through both chambers of the state Legislature by the Ascension Parish delegation, Prejean said.

“I told the board that I wanted to see a new terminal building,” state Sen. Jody Amedee said. ‘The board’s worked well with us to get it through. It was also one of the items that the governor did not veto this year.

Amedee said that in visiting other airports across the state, he felt that improvements were sorely needed at the Gonzales facility.

“(The airport) has regional impact,” he said. “A lot of people fly into this area and this parish. To be frank, it’s kind of embarrassing to go into that terminal building right now. I’m proud for everyone’s help. We obtained the money and now, it can become a reality.”

Prejean also thanked parish government for their efforts in improving Loosemore Road, which leads to the airport, through repaving so that it could handle additional traffic leading to the airport.

“I’ve had the opportunity to fly into and out of this airport,” Parish President Tommy Martinez said. “This is a wonderful facility that has been underutilized. Hopefully, with this improvement, it can really take off.”

Prejean said the new administrative offices, meeting rooms, pilot lounge, public restrooms and more will be located inside a new 200,000-square-foot building. Acadian Builders was awarded the contract as low bidder on the project.

The building should be complete and opened by the end of the year, Prejean said.

Before the ceremony, those in attendance held a moment of silence for long-time authority member Judy McClain, who died in May. McClain was a 17-year member of the authority.

“This dedication of a new terminal building was definitely an aspiration of Judy’s,” Prejean said. “I know she’s in heaven thinking about it and is with us today.”

Later in the morning, smaller aircraft took center stage as model planes and helicopters took to the skies for aerobatic demonstrations.

Scott Moss of Baton Rouge flew his aerobatic model helicopter, which danced in the sky while flying a traditional perpendicular path, upside down and even side-to-side during his demonstration.

“We call that 3-D flying,” Moss said. “It encompasses all three dimensions of the airspace and the range that a helicopter like this one can move. There’s many facets to the sport of aerobatic flying. The challenge is in the level of difficulty.”

Moss, who has been involved in aviation for 20 years, said that while the helicopter he flew Sunday had multi-directional range, flying a helicopter in a traditional style is still a daunting task.

“It’s just as difficult, but just a different approach,” Moss said. “It takes a whole other set of skills. Pilots for helicopters for medical services, military transport and other means have just as big a challenge if not more than these aerobatic helicopters do.”

The day also included fly-bys featuring gyrocopters - smaller aircraft using both a rotor and a propeller for movement - and stearman-type biplanes.

Visitors also had the opportunity to view informational booths and classic aircraft on static display, while also having the chance to take an introductory flight with a certified flight instructor.

Those in attendance also were treated to hot dogs and soft drinks, as well as jambalaya prepared by the Jambalaya Festival Association.

Pictured at the groundbreaking for the new terminal at the Louisiana Regional Airport in Gonzales are, from left: Ascension-St. James Airport and Transportation Authority members Robert Jackson, Eileen Jasmin, Curtis Deroche and Dale Hymel Sr., Chairman Nicky Prejean, Parish President Tommy Martinez, State Sen. Jody Amedee, Authority member George Rodeilliat, State Rep. Elton Aubert and Parish Council President Pat Bell. Not pictured, but also present at the ceremony, are authority members Calvin Narcisse and Shafter Kling.