Airport seaway project nears completion

A second seaway is under construction at Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport near Patterson.
(Submitted Photo)


A second seaplane/amphibious aircraft ramp at Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport near Patterson on the seaway or water runway at the airport is nearing completion.
When the second ramp is completed it will allow for multiple aircraft departures and arrivals as well as the capability of launching and retrieving seaplanes at the same time. It will also allow one ramp to operate even if the other is in repair.
The second ramp is the final stage of a three-part project, which should be finished by the end of April, Ken Perry, an airport advisory committee member, said.
Concrete was poured for the ramps on Tuesday. After the concrete cures, wooden planks will be installed to protect the floats and keels of the aircraft using the ramp, Perry said.
Earlier in the project, a weir that had been damaged by nutria and alligators through the years was repaired with a new design of concrete on top of steel to keep that from happening again, he said. A pair of 233-foot water wells were also installed.
The project began in October and has been delayed from completion about three months because of weather- related issues, Perry said. The airport is a general aviation airport that is funded by the flying community, primarily through aviation fuel flowage fees of about 40-cents per gallon, Perry said.
Henry “Bo” Lagrange, chief administrative officer for the parish, said the $270,000 project has been funded through a 90 percent contribution from the Federal Aviation Administration trust fund and matching 10 percent from the state department of aviation. LaGrange’s duties include managing the airport.
The airport will use the water wells to pump water from the aquifer into the waterway during droughts such as occurred in 2011, Perry said. Previously the airport relied on a single well with a pump operated by generator-supplied electricity.
The summer 2011 drought led to the seaway being closed a few days when the water level dropped so low that it was a hazard to land the float planes in it. Perry said a minimum depth of three feet is needed in the seaway for its safe operation with an ideal depth of 8 to 10 feet.
The pumps could raise the water level nearly two inches a day — about a foot a week — without any assistance from rainfall, Perry said.
The airport’s 4,500-foot waterway which the float planes land on are one of only two dedicated seaways in the Lower 48 states, Perry said. The other is in New Iberia. Other airports use adjoining bodies of waters such as lakes.
The closure of other seaplane bases, especially in Houma, has increased floatplane landings at Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport from three to about a dozen per day, Perry said. The increased traffic made the second ramp a welcome addition.
“Where there were once four seaplane bases along the Intracoastal near Houma there are now none,” Perry said.
The airport serves a lot of people with two fixed-base operations, a fixed-wing base and a helicopter base, LaGrange said.
“The airport is a vital part of the economy of the parish,” LaGrange said. “There are plenty of people flying in and out for meetings and business related to shipbuilding and the oil industry as well as aircraft flying out to check pipelines and other things related to the oil companies.”
The airport has an instrument landing system that allows landings during periods of bad visibility, such as at night or foggy conditions, LaGrange said.
About a 100,000 people use Harry P. Williams Memorial Airport annually, Perry said. The airport can accommodate 98 percent of the corporate jet fleet in the United States, with the ability to land jets up to the size of the largest Gulfstream, the 650, Perry said.
The runway is slightly more than a mile long at 5,401 feet long and has a northeast-southwest heading built on top of the Teche Ridge, Perry said. They are built with a 2-foot asphalt surface laid on top of a 3-foot deep concrete foundation, he said.

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