When beginning a master plan, one is always concerned about context. The England Authority had produced in 1994 the Base Reuse Plan and in 1998 the Airport Master Plan. Both plans were developed to meet requirements for redevelopment of the facility. Both plans have been nationally recognized for their structure and content. The 1998 plan built upon the successful ideas of the basic Base Reuse Plan. The 2009 update was required by the Federal Aviation Administration to map out development for the next 20 years at England Airpark.
For those not familiar with the development of the Airpark, let me roll the first two plans into a “background” briefing in this entry.
With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Cold War came to an end. The United States government recognized the need for closure and elimination of significant amounts of military infrastructure. Thus, the base closure rounds of the 1990’s came into being. One of those bases slated for closure was England Air Force Base.
The community rallied in the face of potential severe economic dislocation and created the England Economic and Industrial Development District (England Authority) to seek control of the real and personal property located at England Air Force Base. Upon application by the England Authority and at the recommendation of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Defense granted all airside and landside areas (the Airport) associated with the former military base to the England Authority for the purpose of establishing a major air transport resource for the region, state and nation.
December of 1992 saw the creation of the geographic entity known as England Airpark with the official closure of England Air Force Base. Located at England Airpark, Alexandria International Airport was opened for service in August of 1993. 1995 saw the England Authority become financially self-sustaining in operating funding. In August of 1996, commercial air service commenced at AEX with service to Houston, Dallas, Memphis and Atlanta. With the doubling of air traffic, leasing of over 1 million square feet of commercial space and the facilitation of approximately 2,000 jobs, England Airpark and AEX have become a model for the transfer of a former military base to a rural community. From its beginning, the redevelopment of England Airpark and AEX has been a unique enterprise in accumulating additional missions compared to the typical development of a rural airfield. During the planning process, the FAA and local community envisioned the facility as a strategic asset to the national airspace/transport system. Building upon its civilian mission, the England Authority executed a commercial lease with the US Army for a portion of the facility including access to the airfield which resulted in the creation of the intermediate staging base (ISB) for the nation’s critical Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) located at nearby Fort Polk.
Since 9/11, AEX has played a strategic role in moving thousands of civilians and military personnel along with millions of pounds of cargo in support of the Global War on Terror. Proving its flexibility and efficiency in these real world deployments, the military under a commercial lease with the England Authority, invested approximately $60 million in airfield facilities including the hazardous cargo loading/unloading aprons (hot pads), the military passenger processing facility, Air Cargo/Military Apron adjacent to the North Apron and rekeeling of Runway 18.
Another developing mission is Disaster Relief for the Gulf Coast. Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and most recently Gustav (2008) solidified the Airpark’s role, as designated by the Louisiana Department of Transportation Division (LaDOTD), as a disaster relief staging and support area. From marshalling aircraft, transshipping supplies, staging relief troops and workers, to serving as a command center location, AEX/England Airpark has shown that its role in disaster relief can be greatly expanded.
Complimenting the expansion of these missions has been the improvement of other transportation nodes serving England. The State of Louisiana undertook the projects of four lane highway construction on 28 West from Alexandria to Leesville; 165 from I-10 to Monroe; 167 from Alexandria to Ruston and completion of I-49. The Red River became navigation project was completed with a robust Port of Alexandria. Finally, Union Pacific rail service was re-established to England Airpark.
From its humble beginnings as an abandoned military facility, England Airpark/AEX serves in a number of roles including: a staging base for both military training/transfer operations and disaster relief, an Intermodal transportation facility, and as an educational campus and business development center for the Central Louisiana Region. Alexandria International Airport (AEX) continues to aggressively develop commercial and general aviation/corporate related traffic providing leisure and business travelers a gateway to national hubs including Atlanta, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Memphis.
Thus the Master Plan update of 2009 was building upon a solid base of development success. As we started the project, the England Authority began formulating goals, objectives and key issues to be developed. My next entry will discuss that area. Thank you for your interest in the England Airpark Master Plan.