The History of Lafayette Regional Airport
For the vast majority of Acadiana residents, Lafayette Regional Airport is a resource that's been around our entire lives. On Thursday, the airport enters a new chapter of its history when its new terminal opens for business. With this new era starting in just a few days, let's take a look back at Lafayette Regional Airport's history.
Choosing the Land
The genesis of Lafayette Regional Airport came in 1929 when Lafayette city leaders began searching for land to place the city's new airstrip. Several prominent landowners offered to sell their property to the city for the airport.
City officials eventually chose land owned by J. A. Roy and Hugh Wallis located along the then-new Lafayette-Broussard Highway. At the time, the plot was located one mile away from Lafayette city limits. City officials purchased the 150-acre plot on December 27, 1929, for a price of $22,500 ($366,844.74 in 2021 dollars), with an option to purchase 50 additional acres for $150 per acre.
If the city's trustees had selected any of the other options, the landscape of Lafayette as we know it today would have been different. Among the other options city leaders considered:
- The property across the street from the present-day Moncus Park where the Winwood Shopping Center, several other businesses, and a neighborhood are located.
- A plot of land near the present-day Carencro High School.
- A plot of land near the present-day intersection I-10/University Avenue interchange.
- A plot of land near the present-day David Thibodaux STEM Academy and Acadiana Park.
- Three plots of land near the present-day Lafayette Middle School, including one located near where the Cajundome stands today.
- A plot of land on today's Northside near what is now the Truman Addition.
Airplanes began landing at the airfield by July 1930. By August, private companies began offering Lafayette residents airplane rides for a fee.
The new Lafayette Municipal Airport was dedicated on November 28, 1930.
That dedication ceremony featured 27 planes from Fort Crocket, Texas. Those planes carried 47 men, including the members of the Fort Crocket football team. They came to town to play the Southwestern Louisiana Institute football team in a game that was included on the official dedication program. That program also included a parade, stunt flight exhibitions performed by the Fort Crocket airmen, performances by two bands, and a football game between Lafayette High School and Cathedral High School.
In 1941, the Lafayette Parish Police Jury bought an addition 75 acres of land from Wallis to expand the airport.
One year later, the United State Army Air Force commandeered the airport and used it as a pilot training facility during the remainder of World War II. In September 1945, the Army returned the airport to civilian control.
Less than a year after that, Lafayette Municipal Airport set its sights on a new horizon.
Passenger Service Comes to the Hub City
In 1946, Eastern Airlines began preliminary work to bring passenger service to the Lafayette and New Iberia areas. The airline considered both the Lafayette and New Iberia airfields when deciding where to place its local stop.
In 1948, Eastern Airlines made its decision. It picked the Lafayette airfield as its base for commuter flights to New Orleans.
In 1956, Trans-Texas Airways joined Eastern Airways in providing passenger service to customers at Lafayette Municipal Airport, providing transit between the Hub City and Shreveport. Trans-Texas, later known as Texas International, later added service to Houston and, later, Dallas. In 1971, Texas International introduced jet service to the Lafayette airport. In 1982, Texas International merged with Continental Airlines. In 2010, Continental merged with United Airlines, which continues to provide flights to Houston from Lafayette.
Eastern Airlines continued to provide service out of the Lafayette airport through the late-1980s when the company became defunct. In 1990, Delta began offering flights to Atlanta from Lafayette. A few years later, American Eagle began providing flights to Dallas. Today, American Eagle provides flights to both Dallas and Charlotte from LFT.
Allegiant Airlines briefly provided daily flights to Las Vegas, starting and shuttering the service in 2014. Frontier Airlines ran routes to Orlando and Denver from Lafayette from 2018 through 2019.
One Airport, Three Terminals
Lafayette Municipal Airport's original terminal was constructed in the 1940s and served passengers when Eastern Airlines began its service from LFT. By 1955, the old terminal no longer met the growing city's and airport's needs. In December 1956, airport leaders broke ground on a new terminal to replace the original facility. In January 1959, the new terminal opened. Construction of the facility cost $215,000 ($2,059,877.32 in 2021 dollars).
Less than a decade later, that terminal was replaced with the terminal we know today. That two-story facility, completed in 1967, featured a second story with an outdoor balcony, an expansive first-floor waiting area, a snack bar, and a cocktail lounge. This facility cost the parish $615,000 to build ($4,927,104.31 in 2021 dollars).
It was also around this time that Lafayette Municipal Airport was renamed Lafayette Regional Airport.
By the 1980s, the terminal was in dire need of renovation and expansion. In 1984, the Lafayette Airport Commission began a two-phased renovation of the airport. The first phase of the project added the exterior shell that gives the soon-to-be retired terminal its distinctive appearance. The second phase of the project changed the building's interior. The cocktail lounge and the passenger waiting areas were moved to the second floor. Jet bridges were added, as was a baggage claim area with a conveyor belt.
Crews finished the renovation project in December 1991. In all, the seven-year project cost Lafayette Parish $6.5 million ($52,075,086.21 in 2021 dollars).
On Wednesday, the fourth terminal in Lafayette Regional Airport's history will have its grand opening. Flights to and from that terminal will begin the next day. It's the realization of nearly 20 years of planning and almost 10 years of initiative. It seems like yesterday that voters approved the sales tax to pay for that airport. It also seems like yesterday that construction on the new terminal began. In just a few days from now, that terminal will be a reality.