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City considers commercial flights to Denver

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“A combination of both passenger requests and city growth plans prompted this discussion,” says Juanita Jennings, director of Public Affairs, who presented information Thursday to the Airport Advisory Commission. Commission member Bud Kunkel is at left and Mayor Dennis Kintigh is shown on the right. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

City of Roswell leaders have their eyes on Denver as a possible landing site for expanded commercial airline service.

Houston is also considered a possibility, but is seen as a less likely choice early in the planning stage.

City staff said that the initial discussions arise from requests from existing Roswell International Air Center passengers, as well as city planning efforts.

“A combination of both passenger requests and city growth plans prompted this discussion,” said Director of Public Affairs Juanita Jennings. “The city of Roswell’s airport wants to remain competitive.”

In recent years, the city has established service to and from Dallas and Phoenix with American Airlines. While Dallas-Fort Worth service — started in 2007 — never required minimum revenue guarantee payments from a consortium of county and city governments in the area, the Phoenix flights, which began in March 2016, did need more than $1 million in payments from the seven members of a consortium during most of its first two years. But those flights have been self-sustaining since March 2018.

City reports also indicate that passenger boardings at the airport are increasing. As of October 2018, the most recent data publicly available — the Roswell airport had 48,023 passenger boardings for the first 10 months of 2018, compared to 46,811 for the same period in 2017.

With evidence of strong commercial airline demand, attention is turning to future airline service expansion, with a discussion about the issue at the Thursday meeting of the city of Roswell Airport Advisory Commission.

Jennings said that marketing surveys of 1,200 people at the airport in June and July 2017 not only provided information to help develop city marketing strategies but also indicated “a want for another city and carrier option.”

“We’re not at the point of planning, just exploring the opportunity to support more business growth to the community by providing another flight or carrier to and from Roswell,” she said in a later email interview.

Jennings told commission members that the city’s air service consultant, Kent Myers of Airplanners LLC, has recommended Denver as “one of the better selection sites.”

“It is the 20th busiest airport in the world and the fifth in the United States,” Jennings said. “They have approximately 168,000 passengers per day.”

The June airport survey found that most Roswell airport travelers, about 43 percent, were from New Mexico, with others coming from Texas, Arizona, California and Florida. Colorado was not included among the responses.

But Scott Stark, Air Center director, noted that the survey asked which city passengers would want added to local airline service, with Denver being the most frequent response. Jennings said many respondents also named Las Vegas, Nevada, and that several other cities were mentioned.

Jennings said the Fly Roswell marketing group recommends that further research be conducted, perhaps a survey of out-of-state hotel guests. The Roswell Visitors Center also intends to ask questions specifically about Denver travel when it conducts surveys in January and February. Credit card data regarding airline purchases to Denver made by cardholders in the region also could be gathered, commission members said.

Mayor Dennis Kintigh, chair of the Airport Advisory Commission, noted that the oil and gas industry and Leprino Foods, the city’s largest employer which has its headquarters in Denver, could have a need for such service.

“Is there a synergy between Roswell and Denver?” asked Kintigh, chair of the Airport Advisory Commission. “My gut says yes, but that isn’t data.”

Stark added that he thinks people from the area who want to fly to Denver are now traveling to Albuquerque or Lubbock to catch a flight.

City Councilor Judy Stubbs recalled that Roswell had service to Denver with Big Sky Airlines, based out of Montana.

According to industry publications and websites, the airline started service to Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth and Billings, Montana, from Carlsbad, Hobbs and Roswell in October 2000 but ended all New Mexico service in 2001.

Stubbs said the flight was supported by a consortium of airports but was not able to be sustained for several reasons, including expensive landing fees at Denver and the airline’s own business concerns.

“I think what the experience actually proved was that there weren’t that many people interested in going to Denver,” she said. “They could get more connections at better times out of DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth). But I think interest could be generated.”

Should Roswell decide to pursue the expansion, some federal and state grant opportunities possibly could help fund airline service or marketing efforts related to them, Jennings said.

While service to Houston also was mentioned as a possibility for expansion, some commission members and city staff saw that as a less viable option because Hobbs already has direct service to Houston and because the current American Airlines service to Dallas-Fort Worth provides connections to Houston.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.