Cleared for Take-Off Once Again

After a brief hiatus due to COVID-19 and uncooperative weather, Aviation Awareness Day finally returned to the Port of South Louisiana’s Executive Regional Airport

For the 4th time since 2017, the Port of South Louisiana’s Executive Regional Airport welcomed pilots from around the Southeast and more than 100 kids from the River Parishes and beyond for Aviation Awareness Day – a charity endeavor created by the non-profit organization “Guys Achieving Goals.”

Grounded since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the return of the mark-your-calendar event was actually delayed one week further due to inclement weather, although the extended wait didn’t tamper the spirits of attendees, aged 11-17 years old. Those in attendance were introduced to various career paths associated with aviation (both in the air and on the ground) that require an advanced understanding of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics.

As it has been since its inception, though, the high point of Aviation Awareness Day continues to be the free-of-charge aircraft rides offered to kids. Planes used included a single-engine Cessna 172 — the plane many aviation experts dub the most successful plane in aircraft history because of the units sold and the longevity of production — the twin-engine monoplane Cessna 310, and several models of Piper planes. Placed in the trusted hands of veteran pilots willing to answer questions before and after takeoff, kids were taken up in the air – many for the first time in their lives – and shown that carving a career in aviation isn’t out of reach.  

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“This was a true community event, and it took the generosity of community leaders and businesses to make it happen,” Airport Supervisor Charles Palmer said. “From the Port supplying fuel for the planes, to restaurants donating drinks and food, musicians coming to play in the afternoon, and of course all the volunteers and pilots from across the area providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these kids. Even with the delay, so many pilots still came when it was rescheduled, because they know what this means to those kids.

“It was a long and busy day, but certainly a worthwhile effort.”

In addition to the fleet of planes manned by volunteer pilots, attending children and their parents also got to watch members of the U.S. Coast Guard perform a helicopter search and rescue mission. Furthermore, students and staff from Nicholls State’s Geomatics Department introduced the audience to the operation of unmanned aerial drones, which have been used in a variety of capacities such as mapping Louisiana’s ever-evolving coastline.

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Exposing young adults to ALL aspects of aviation – not just being a pilot – and providing them real-life role models in different fields of aviation for which to follow was overall goal of this cause when Paul Green, a Navy veteran, East St. John High School grad and longtime aircraft maintenance technician, and the late Pastor Donald August originally founded the event. Even though Aviation Awareness Day is still relatively new, a handful of former attendees have gone on to pursue careers in the field and secure their pilot’s license. 

Those success stories, and the ones still to come, are why the Port of South Louisiana continues to proudly host this event and other gatherings that directly benefit residents in and around the River Parishes. 

“The main function of the airport will always be aviation – providing easier access to the River Parishes, whether that be for business at the Port or multiple other reasons,” Palmer said. “But when we can open our gates to the local community, when we can bus kids in and give them a memory they’ll never forget, that’s just a great use of our facility, as well.” 

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