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New Orleans Nostalgia: Flights of Fancy

The history of Louis Armstrong International Airport.

The interior view of the new terminal at Moisant Airport, circa 1959; a WDSU-TV crew is filming in the foreground. Photograph by Jerry Bray. Provided courtesy of New Orleans Public Library.

Flying came to New Orleans before a proper airport did. Airshows were new and exciting, and John B. Moisant, an early aviator, participated in many of them, even forming his own traveling flying circus. He and his circus came to New Orleans in 1910; set a world-record flight time of 46 minutes, 10 seconds; and had a race with a Packard automobile, which he lost. The next day, on December 31, while flying in Kenner, his plane flipped over mid-flight; he was ejected and died.
   
Thirty years later, in 1940, Kenner was announced as the site of the New Orleans airport. Ground-breaking occurred in ’41, and Moisant Airport opened on January 13, ’46. A military parade, exhibitions of planes, flying demonstrations, the first scheduled commercial arrivals and departures and a formal dedication by World War II military hero General James Doolittle were included in the ceremonies. Thousands of people attended the opening of what was at the time the largest commercial airport in the country.

At its opening there were 50 daily flights; by the end of 1952 that number grew to 122. This growth prompted the need for a new terminal and tower. Construction began in ’57, and the new terminal was opened on November 12, ’59. Designed by New Orleans architectural firms Goldstein, Parham and Labouisse and Benson and Riehl, the new terminal was praised for its modern design. The $7.5 million structure featured a ticket lobby for 11 airlines, a restaurant, a cocktail lounge, a coffee shop, a chapel and a six-crib nursery.

In 1960, Moisant Airport was renamed New Orleans International Airport, and then renamed Louis Armstrong International Airport in 2001.

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