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Roswell airfield tour shows opportunities

City Councilor Judy Stubbs looks at one of the airfield’s tear-down pads, used by an maintenance and repair operation (MRO). Roswell International Air Center Director Scott Stark told members of the Airport Advisory Commission that this pad is too old and in a bad location, causing “fog” from debris drift and storm-water drainage issues. A priority is to build a new pad in a new location. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The need to remove stored parts from prime airfield locations, to upgrade one of the taxiways and to make decisions about commercial hangars are just a few of the issues facing Roswell International Air Center managers and city leaders.

A Thursday tour of the secure, fenced off section of the Roswell International Airport by Air Center Director Scott Stark gave members of the Airport Advisory Commission and a few airport tenants and members of the public a closer look at current operations and some ideas of what airport managers want to see happen in the future.

The tour occurred during the third meeting of the City of Roswell Airport Advisory Commission. Michael Garcia, a principal with Armstrong Consultants Inc., also made a presentation about his company’s 10 years of work with the city on airport financing, construction and planning.

As with the previous two meetings, the commission’s discussions were far-ranging as members concerned themselves primarily with becoming familiar with air center operations and issues.

“I don’t know the answers,” Mayor Dennis Kintigh, chair of the commission, said at one point in the meeting when people were debating whether the city should invest in large, new hangars for commercial operations rather than continue to pay to maintain or repair existing hangars built 60 to 70 years ago — structures that often are too small for larger aircraft or lack sufficient electrical systems for work on modern aircraft, according to some commission members.

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“I see that as one of the objectives of this commission,” Kintigh said. “To say to the council, hey, don’t throw good money after bad. I have even thrown out the radical idea of, you know, tearing them down and using that for a large hangar. Just because I’ve thrown the idea out doesn’t mean I’m committed to it or that it is a good idea. I just say we need to seriously talk about that.”

Discussions about commercial hangars also concerned whether private investors could be attracted to build new ones.

Major points covered during the tour involved infrastructure and building needs.

• The city will start work next month on its study of an airport terminal expansion. The airport recently received a $148,162 grant from the New Mexico Department of Transportation to examine options regarding the expansion of the 1975 terminal building and its related facilities such as parking areas. “As anyone knows if you have flown out of here recently, it is crowded,” said Stark. “There is not enough parking spaces, there is not large enough secure area, the baggage area could be bigger.” He said the airport needs to plan for additional commercial flights and passengers in the future and also mentioned that future design should ensure that vehicle parking is not within 300 feet of the terminal. He said future terminal expansion could mean a new building or adding onto the existing structure.

• Pecos Flavors Winery, which is opening a restaurant inside the terminal, is expected to start construction soon so that it can begin operations by the holidays.

• The airfield secure area has a big problem at the current time with the various maintenance and repair operations (MROs) having aircraft parts stored on the ramp, Stark said. Not only does that create what Stark characterized as an “eyesore,” but it also represents a potential safety problem and ties up valuable ramp area that could be used for other purposes. The air center is working with tenants to move the parts to other storage areas or buildings and has already stopped allowing tenants to lease ramp space for storage.

• A current “tear-down pad” that one MRO uses to disassemble aircraft is not adequate now for current needs or in the proper location, Stark said. The concrete pad has deteriorated, leading to a storm-water drainage problem, and the location causes “fog” when winds blow debris across the runways and taxiways. The pad, not too far from the terminal, is also a prime spot for future terminal or hangar expansion. A new pad is needed in a different location, he said.

• The airport needs new hangars for private aircraft owners to rent. Ten T-hangars located to the east of the terminal are small, appropriate only for single-engine planes, and near areas where MROs have a lot of their materials stored, making it difficult for pilots to taxi or move their aircraft.

• Stark said airport planners consider a portion of the airfield that is now vacant but near the runways as a prime area of future development, with enough land for 30 or 40 hangars large enough to hold 747 aircraft. While he thinks there will never be a need for that many hangars, he said he does think it is realistic that 10 to 20 private aircraft hangars might be built within 20 years.

• One of the taxiways needs to be widened, Stark said. A portion of it is now asphalt, which cannot carry heavy loads such as concrete, and is not conducive for aircraft with wider landing gear. The plan is to renovate the taxiway to remove the asphalt and replace it with concrete.

• Some commercial hangars are being used by MROs for non-aviation purposes, including storage. According to Stark, if some other tenant comes along that wants to use those hangars for aircraft operations, the FAA will require the current tenants to vacate the buildings. He did say the hangars are “obsolete,” which means that the number of prospective new tenants is limited.

• Stark said he would like to see a full-time Airframe and Powerplant mechanic available on the airfield for traveling pilots who have mechanical problems. At the current time, A&P mechanics either are either occupied on other duties as MRO employees or work only periodically with the fixed base operator at the airfield.

• Stark talked about the large number of aircraft, about 200, stored long-term throughout the airfield. He countered the idea that the airfield is a “boneyard.” Instead, he said, all of the planes are either in process of being repaired or being disassembled for parts or metal sales or recycling. He said the airfield could store as many as 800 aircraft and that the air center considers the fees paid for long-term storage to be a good source of income.

• Stark said he and others are seeking a buyer or new tenant for the large building once used as the Millennial bus manufacturing site. The 440,000-square-foot structure is underutilized now, he said, adding that the Millennial group was not required to meet any type of activity or performance criteria when it signed its lease. He said only a portion of the building is now used by the company for parts sales and storage.

•Stark said he would like to see an industrial park developed on the south side of the airfield accessible by Y-O Road. It would be outside the secure FAA operation area, but adjacent to it.

The next meeting of the commission has been scheduled for 10 a.m., Oct. 18, in the air terminal building.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.