Airpark committed to 24-hour operations at Alexandria airport
Scott Gammel, left, Alexandria International Airport manager, and Pat Thompson, a U.S. Department of Defense employee who supervises Alexandria’s air traffic controllers, hope that the 259th Louisiana Air National Guard Unit will be allowed to stay at their jobs. / Leandro Huebnerfirstname.lastname@example.org
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Senior Airman Justin Dauzart and Staff Sgt. Clay Guillot guided the Delta Air Lines passenger jet to a picture-perfect landing on a picture-perfect day this week.
The airmen have spent a few years in the control tower at Alexandria International Airport, the hub of commercial and military flight operations in Central Louisiana. But this might be Dauzart's and Guillot's last April as air traffic controllers at AEX if the Air Force can't be persuaded to drop plans that would disband the Louisiana Air National Guard 259th Air Traffic Control Squadron.
Dauzart and Guillot, who've both been in war zones, do not want their 110-airman unit to be broken up and transferred to as-yet unannounced U.S. locales to serve in the Air Force's drone program.
"I'd like to stay here," Dauzart said. "My family's in Alexandria. That's the main reason I wanted to come here."
Central Louisiana wants them to stay, too.
Officials at England Airpark, which operates the airport in Rapides Parish, are waging a campaign to keep the 259th here, where training is ongoing. Airpark officials are encouraging Louisiana's congressional delegation, legislators, the governor, mayors, councils, parents and kids to speak up, sign up and keep up the pressure in hopes the Air Force will change its plans.
"If [the 259th] is effective and efficient, why shouldn't it be saved?" said Jon Grafton, airpark executive director.
Grafton also said that if Air Force plans prevail and the 259th is moved, AEX will continue 24-hour military and commercial operations.
It might, however, make the England Authority dig into its budget, Grafton said.
According to records and interviews with air travel officials, the 259th:
—Has a $3 million annual direct impact to the local economy.
—Lands private, commercial and military aircraft 24 hours a day.
—Oversees coastal disaster air operations, such as when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005 and AEX was the launching and landing pad for emergency aircraft when air facilities in South Louisiana were knocked out.
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