|Louisiana's aerospace footprint
The western-most state of the Aerospace Alliance is a key player in aerospace
thanks to a NASA facility, but it’s also home to a bomb wing, MROs, aircraft assembly
The massive Michoud Assembly Facility in East New Orleans has been an integral
part of NASA’s space program since the early days of the agency.
It has 2.2 million square feet of manufacturing space under one roof, an area large
enough for 31 football fields, making it one of the largest manufacturing facilities in
the world. It was where Saturn Vs were built and later the fuel tanks for the Space
Shuttle. And today it continues its role.
At Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF), Lockheed Martin is building the Orion Multi-
Purpose Crew vehicle and Boeing the first stage of the Space Launch System, a
NASA program will take astronauts deeper into space than ever before.
“Louisiana, and specifically, Michoud, is the critical nexus for the refinement of
prototypes and the manufacturing of final assemblies for those space flights,” said
Don Pierson, Secretary of Louisiana Economic Development (LED). “We’re proud to
host that aerospace production in Louisiana, and proud of what it represents for our
For Louisiana, a member of the four-state Aerospace Alliance, the NASA facility is
enough to make the state a major player in aerospace. But there’s a lot more.
Workers in the state do subassembly work on Bell Helicopters along the Interstate 10
corridor in Lafayette. Further west there are maintenance, repair and overhaul
facilities at Chennault International Airport and in Alexandria there’s England Airpark.
In northwest Louisiana is Barksdale Air Force Base, home of the 2nd Bomb Wing’s B-
52H Stratofortress bombers.
According to LED, Louisiana has 6,200 aviation and aerospace jobs. The
Department of Transportation and Development counts nearly 60,000 and $1.8
billion in annual payroll directly supported by the 68 public-use airports in the state. It
also has 82 LED certified sites in 32 parishes, indicating they are ready to develop.
Pierson said aerospace is one of nine industries where Louisiana has a strong
presence or strong growth opportunities. “In the case of aerospace, it’s both. We’re
strong now, and we see great potential for the future of aerospace in Louisiana,” he
Five distinct centers for aerospace are located in the state. Two are former bases
that closed and are now commercial centers. Three of the five are along the Gulf
Coast I-10 corridor.
In the Paris Air Show in June, Louisiana pursued major and minor component
suppliers for aircraft, rotorcraft and space flight.
“We have an intriguing pipeline of prospects that we’ve been accruing over time, at
many air shows and prospect-specific visits to headquarters and operational sites,”
Pierson said. “We came back from Paris enthused, and ready to hit the airstrips and
hangars and the corporate boardrooms that power them.”
New Orleans, home of busy Louis Armstrong International Airport, is also home to
NASA’s MAF and the military’s Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base (NAS JRB) New
Orleans in Belle Chasse.
The Michoud center puts the city in a select league of locations with NASA
operations, traditionally a lure for companies. Within the multi-tenant facility is the
National Center for Advanced Manufacturing (NCAM), a research and production
center focused on applying advanced manufacturing technologies to lightweight
composite and metallic materials in support of the NASA space program and adjacent
From 1979 to 2010, MAF produced 136 fuel tanks for the Space Shuttle program,
which followed the site’s production of Saturn booster rockets for the Apollo missions
beginning in 1961. Today it’s home to more than 3,000 federal and private-sector
“By the end of 2017, we believe Boeing may well be pushing toward employment of
700 as activities accelerate in the space program,” said Pierson. “We‘re seeing
growth and diversification with other subcontractors and non-NASA development.”
MAF’s proximity to Mississippi’s Stennis Space Center, where rocket engines are
tested, makes the area along the state line a hot spot for space activities. In 2008,
there were meetings to establish a Stennis-Michoud group to jointly promote the two,
but it appears to be idle. In 2010-2011, the International Economic Development
Council did a marketing strategy for a Stennis-Michoud Technology Corridor to “help
build cooperation and collaboration … in growing and sustaining this technology
“The IEDC team believes that the region is in need for a major marketing effort to
brand the technology corridor and raise awareness of its valuable technology
assets,” the study said.
Having two sites actively involved in space exploration programs “presents a unique
opportunity to grow and attract other similar technology-based businesses to this
multi-state region,” the study said.
Combined the two NASA sites have plenty of acres to develop. MAF has 600 acres
on site and hundreds of additional acres outside the site. Stennis Space Center also
has several thousands of acres within its buffer zone.
South of Michoud, NAS JRB New Orleans is home to a Navy Reserve strike fighter
squadron, a fleet logistics support squadron, a Coast Guard Air Station, detachment
of a Marine Reserve light helicopter attack squadron and other Navy and Army
Its two-runway military airport south of downtown New Orleans, is used by F/A 18
Hornets, F-15 Eagles, UH-1Y Huey, AH-1 Cobras, C-130 Hercules and MH-65
Dolphins. It’s part of a large Gulf Coast military aviation complex that includes all
branches of the military and spans the region between New Orleans and Panama
A roughly two-hour drive west from New Orleans is the city of Lafayette, fourth largest
city in Louisiana and best known for its petroleum and gas industries. But it’s also the
site of the 82,300 square-foot Bell Helicopter assembly facility at Lafayette Regional
Funded by the state in an intergovernmental agreement, the facility is owned by
Lafayette Regional Airport with Bell Helicopter as the long-term lessee. It began
operations in 2015 with assembly of the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X.
“As you know, there have been some recent headwinds in the rotorcraft industry, and
Bell has had to adjust some of its production schedules among facilities in Canada,
Texas and here in Louisiana,” Pierson said.
In May 2016, Bell said it was moving final assembly of the 505 from Lafayette to
Mirabel, Canada, but in exchange Lafayette would do cabin subassembly work on the
Bell 525 Relentless, which had been done in Amarillo, Texas. In addition, modification
work on the Bell 407, platform for the Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout
unmanned aerial vehicle, would move from Ozark, Ala., to Lafayette.
Pierson said the facility will create 95 to 100 new direct jobs averaging $55,000 a
year, plus benefits. Bell also is retaining 60 additional employees in components
parts (composite helicopter panels) and service operations that already existed in the
Bell brings new assembly operations to a market where Louisiana already has a
strong presence in helicopter transportation services for offshore oil and gas
exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico, Pierson said.
There’s additional aerospace activities south of Lafayette.
“We have AvEx (Aviation Exteriors Louisiana), which is a world leader in precision
painting for aircraft exteriors, located in this region in New Iberia,” Pierson said about
the company in the town 30 miles southeast of Lafayette.
And between New Iberia and Lafayette in Broussard, there are two OEM service
facilities for composite panels and rotor blades.
Slightly more than an hour’s drive west from Lafayette along I-10 is Lake Charles,
fifth largest city in Louisiana. Known for petrochemical production, Lake Charles is
also home to a former military base established in 1941 that made a successful
transformation to commercial operations.
Lake Charles was the site of an Army school for aviators during World War II. It was
closed after the war but reactivated in the ’50s and became part of the Strategic Air
Command. By then renamed Chennault Air Force Base, its military mission ended in
In the mid-80s the push was on to use it for economic development, with its
marketable 10,700-foot long, 200-foot wide runway and the extensive property
available for tenants.
Today’s Chennault International Airport has, according to Pierson, “what could be
one of the premier, available wide-body hangars in the United States, along with
ramp space capable of supporting any type of aircraft.”
Chennault’s mix of maintenance and paint hangars provides aircraft owners and
operators with the ability to have one-stop operations for maintenance and painting,
“You’re talking about 13 million square feet of concrete, over 1.5 million square feet
of hangar, office and warehouse space, including wide-body hangars,” he said.
One major tenant is the Northrop Grumman Lake Charles Maintenance and
Modification Center, which works on, among other airframes, the Joint STARS military
surveillance aircraft for the Air Force at its 105,000 square-foot fabrication shop.
In addition, Landlocked Aviation Services has three hangars at Chennault and does
painting work on wide and narrow-body aircraft.
In April the airport lost the AAR maintenance, repair and overhaul operation, but
there’s another MRO operation interested in taking over the facility, according to
Randy Robb, executive director of Chennault International Airport. While he would
not name the company, he said it will be even bigger than the AAR operation.
“Our job is to create jobs,” said Robb, who anticipates the current 1,500 employment
level at Chennault will rise to a little over 3,000 by the middle of next year.
Chennault has about 600 acres of prime property available for development. With rail
on the eastern side of the airport and I-10 a short hop away, Chennault is developing
as an intermodal complex. Among other projects, it’s looking to attract refrigerated
warehousing near the rails, as well as manufacturing and air cargo operations.
Chennault, in Foreign Trade Zone 87, has a direct, 9-mile link to the deepwater Port
of Lake Charles.
The National Aircraft MRO Center of Excellence is nearby SOWELA Technical and
Community College to support the ongoing demand for new hires and continuing
education. The center trains about 130 aviation-related students every year.
Asked if there’s been any effort or consideration to branding the Louisiana I-10
region’s combined aerospace activities, Robb said they work with Lafayette and
Michoud, but there’s no specific effort at branding the Louisiana I-10 corridor.
“I don’t know, but that’s probably a brilliant idea.”
Chennault was not the only former military air base in Louisiana to close and convert
to commercial use.
“One huge aerospace asset that Louisiana offers, and that’s perhaps a little under
the radar, is England Airpark,” said Pierson.
England Airpark is a 90-minute drive from I-10 via Interstate 49 in Alexandria, in the
geographic center of Louisiana.
Once the site of England Air Force Base, the Airpark is a 3,000-acre industrial
community that began developing in 1992 after the base closed. It’s home to
Alexandria International Airport and a mixed community that includes commercial
developments and homes.
Because it connects via I-49 to I-10 in South Louisiana and I-20 in North Louisiana,
Pierson sees it as a huge intermodal opportunity for industry, especially aerospace.
The site opened in 1942 as Alexandria Army Air Base, but was put on inactive status
in 1946. It was reopened in 1950 during the Korean War and was closed at the end
of the Cold War in 1992, a casualty of an early round of BRAC military base closures.
England Industrial Park and Community is a multimodal commerce center and
community. It has the airport, office and warehouse facilities, golf course, hotel and
restaurant, day-care center, and more than 300 units of housing and 1.5 million
square feet of commercial space. The housing includes a retirement community and
general housing. It has 60 businesses employing 2,000 people. It’s run by England
Authority (England Economic and Industrial Development District.), an independent
political subdivision of the state.
Just this past September the England Authority received four grants totaling
$17,867,492 from the Federal Aviation Administration. It’s from the airport’s
involvement in the Airport Improvement Program’s Military Airport Program, designed
to help facilitate missions associated with the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort
Grants will provide additional runway space, construction of new service roads,
repaving existing runways, installing wildlife perimeter fencing and noise mitigation
Twenty-five percent of the airport’s travel is military-related, thanks to the 14,000-
plus military and civilian jobs associated with Fort Polk and the Joint Readiness
Training Center, to the west of Alexandria. It has moved thousands of military
personnel and millions of pounds of cargo in support of wards in Iraq and
Afghanistan. It has also been used in hurricane recovery efforts.
England has runways of 9,350 feet and 7,000 feet and 350,000 passengers per
year. It has more than $144 million in annual aviation-related activity.
LED has worked with England Airpark to certify a 1,600-acre megasite that will be
shovel-ready for a major industry to locate there.
“There will be advanced manufacturing -- we hope an aerospace prospect -- and
whatever we’re ultimately successful in landing there will be a significant player and a
significant project for economic development along the Gulf Coast corridor,” said
Jon Grafton, executive director of England Airpark/Alexandria International Airport,
said that of the 1,600 acres, 400 is “really a great piece of property for primary
aircraft operations or an MRO” with access to the air field. The larger, 1,200 portion
is seen as a good location for the automotive industry, but Grafton notes any of the
acreage could be used by the aerospace industry. It’s in Foreign Trade Zone 261.
Northwest Louisiana is home of Barksdale Air Force Base, headquarters of the
Global Strike Command, which oversees 67,000 personnel. It’s responsible for the
nation’s three intercontinental ballistic missile wings, including B-52, B-1 and B-2
It’s also home of the 8th Air Force and the 2nd Bomb Wing’s three squadrons of B-
52H bombers. The 11th Bomb Squadron is the training squadron, and the 20th Bomb
Squadron and 96th Bomb Squadron are operational. Barksdale is also home to the
Air Force Reserve Command’s 307th Bomb Wing. The only other B-52 wing, the 5th
Bomb Wing, is at Minot Air Force Base, N.D.
Shreveport’s available 150,000-square-foot hangar complex is joined by a certificate-
and degree-based Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) program at Southern University at
Shreveport, which has an Aerospace Technology Program supported by LED’s
FastStart workforce program.
Louisiana has two public flight schools: Louisiana Tech University (Ruston, fixed wing
aircraft) and South Louisiana Community College (New Iberia, rotorcraft), and in
addition to the A&P school in Shreveport, there are also A&P schools in Lafayette,
Baton Rouge and Lake Charles.
All things considered, Louisiana is a strong member of the four-state aerospace
region with a variety of operations that make it a major player.
“Louisiana remains a competitive location with low overall tax burden, innovative
workforce development training programs and attractive incentives,” said Pierson,
adding there’s plenty of room to grow at locations across the state.