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Small Airport With Big History Cuts Cost, Time & Mowing With Vegetation Management

More than 82,000 flights a year come in and out of Acadiana Regional Airport, located about 40 miles southwest of Baton Rouge, La. Now considered a premier “General Aviation and Industrial Airport complex,” the airport's history started in military aviation.
 

Today, a variety of aviation-related businesses are located at the airport. Helicopters and seaplanes operate in and out of the airport in support of the offshore petroleum industry. Passenger service is provided by charter operators and some of the largest helicopter companies in the world use Acadiana regularly. The airport has continued to expand, and now spans 2,328 acres, spread across two runways, one a seaway, taxiways and hangars.
 

Despite the many changes to airport property, one thing that hasn't changed is the high standards of those who maintain the airport's buildings and grounds.
 

Maintaining History
 

Proof that these high standards are part of the airport's history is Lawrence Thompson, maintenance supervisor at the airport for more than12 years. Thompson and two other crew members, Matt Rivet and Todd Thibodeaux, manage maintenance duties at Acadiana airport, as well as nearby Lemaire Memorial Airport, just 15 miles away.
 

Thompson, Rivet and Thibodeaux maintain all the vegetation, lights, runways and pavement for the two airports, as well as any other property maintenance issues that come up.
 

A “Growing” Problem
 

With so many maintenance needs across the two airport properties, Thompson, Rivet and Thibodeaux were continually looking for ways to decrease the time spent on maintenance projects, without decreasing the quality of the work or airport safety. One ongoing, time-consuming project that stood out was vegetation management.
 

Regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), grass height along runways and taxiways cannot exceed 12 inches. “When grass grows too high or onto the pavement, it can block the lights lining our runways and taxiways,” Thompson said. “This can be extremely dangerous for landing planes.”
 

For years, Thompson used mowers to keep the grass short. The mowing schedule for the 15 miles and 2,400 acres of Acadiana and Lemaire property was taking three to seven days at least once a month during the eight to nine month growing season.
 

Exacerbating the problem was the fact that the vegetation growing along the runways was a mix of common grasses and invasive grass species, such as smutgrass. “Smutgrass is very difficult to mow and maintain. It is incredibly thick and slows down our cycle quite a bit,” said Thompson.

 

Ideally, an airport's runways, taxiways and roadsides are lined with bermudagrass, a more manageable native grass species. But, even with lower maintenance bermudagrass, mowing is still a significant part of airport maintenance.
 

“Even if we had 100 percent bermudagrass, the regular trimmings required would still be too much for us to effectively manage,” Mouton said.
 

Aside from the need to always meet FAA and airport safety regulations, Thompson wanted to make sure that maintenance efforts were improving the aesthetics of the airport properties. “The airport has a long-standing tradition of catering to those who work in national defense, scientific research and cutting-edge aviation, and we want the grounds to look good for our visitors,” Thompson said. But the vegetation maintenance schedule was so tight that beauty often fell by the wayside.
 

“The mowing program just wasn't working well,” Thompson said. “There was just no way we could keep up, and our turf areas always looked disheveled. It was very disheartening to work so hard and not see desirable results.”
 

Looking for a Change
 

In 2001, at the peak of Thompson's vegetation management frustrations, he ran into Wayne Ducote, a BASF Professional Vegetation Management sales specialist. Ducote, who specializes in vegetation management, knew he could help the airport team manage its grass maintenance program more effectively without sacrificing quality.
 

“The maintenance team needed to find a better solution than mowing, which was clearly not working and was impacting their overall ability to maintain the airport properties,” Ducote said. “My goals were to reduce the need for mowing by 50 percent, make the vegetation management program a lot more effective and show much better results. Not to mention, free up valuable time and costs that could be spent elsewhere.”

 

To determine just how effective herbicides could be, Ducote helped Thompson develop test plots in spring 2001. Following labeled recommendations, they tank mixed 4 to 6 ounces per-acre rate of Plateau® herbicide and 12 to 16 ounces per-acre rate of Roundup Pro, applied the mix to the plots and watched.

 

“It was pretty remarkable to see the grass maintained at a desirable height without additional mowing,” Thompson said. “After seeing the effectiveness of the herbicide mix, we decided to implement an application program immediately.”
 

Time and Cost Savings
 

Thompson's program now includes herbicide spraying on each area of runway and taxiway vegetation that he oversees, covering 20- to 45-acre plots lining the airfield's pavement.

 

Although mowing is still part of the maintenance schedule, with the control offered by the herbicide treatments, mowing has been reduced from 12 to only three times per year. This 75 percent reduction in mowing has freed up a total of eight weeks of time that Thompson and his crew can now spend on other maintenance requirements.

 

By using herbicides in place of repeated mowing, Thompson estimates that the airport is saving an average of $22,000 per year on maintenance costs. Beyond the labor savings, there are also application savings. With only mowing, Thompson was spending around $50.00 per acre on fuel expenses. But, decreasing the mowing with only two herbicide applications dropped fuel expenses to only $30.00 per acre.
 

Added Benefits
 

Thompson also found that using Plateau has helped decrease the amount of unwanted invasive vegetation. “Because it controls invasive weeds while allowing native grasses to remain, Plateau is helping filter out invasive grass species that were making our job more difficult,” Thompson said. “Smutgrass and bahiagrass are wiry and very difficult to mow. Now, when we have to mow, the decrease in those species allows our mowing cycles to go faster and easier.”
 

Thompson also noticed the improved consistency of the grass height on every acre, which greatly increased the beauty and appearance of each property. “I don't think I can say enough about how much better the treated areas look,” he said. “If we weren't spraying, this place would look like a jungle,” he said. Instead, the herbicide program has helped Thompson finally feel proud of the acreage lining the runways and taxiways.
 

Thompson's work has not gone unnoticed in the surrounding community or the world of aviation. In 2002, Acadiana Regional Airport was awarded with the Outstanding Louisiana Airport Award, honoring the airport's contribution to the enhancement of aviation in Louisiana.

 

Thompson and his crew joke that maybe this year, they'll finally be able to take some vacation time. In previous years, the rigorous maintenance schedule didn't allow for any time off, but eliminating costly repeated mowing means that Thompson can focus on other projects, and maybe even squeeze in some vacation. “Taking a short vacation is about the only thing I'd change these days,” Thompson said. “The herbicide program has worked so well, I can't imagine making any other changes.”
 

Always read and follow label directions.
 

Plateau® herbicide is a registered trademark of BASF.
Roundup Pro® herbicide is a registered trademark of Monsanto Corporation.
©2007 BASF Corporation