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Few commercial flights coming to airport at current time

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Lisa Dunlap Photo State restrictions and coronavirus concerns mean few travelers through the Roswell Air Center terminal building nowadays. People say they look forward to returning to normal operations as soon as possible.

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The Roswell airport is a much quieter place nowadays, as coronavirus concerns and state-ordered restrictions have led to a steep drop in commercial air travelers.

Only a few American Airlines flights were scheduled to depart and arrive Thursday at the Roswell Air Center terminal. Most Dallas service was canceled for the day due to lack of demand, although a late night arrival-early morning turnaround was still scheduled.

“Stay-at-home” orders barring anything but essential travel are in effect in Arizona and New Mexico. Texas has issued a “stay-at-home” advisory. New Mexico also has an order requiring any travelers coming from out of state traveling through an airport to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“We are learning day by day what flights are happening and what flights are being canceled,” said Air Center Director Scott Stark. “I believe tomorrow’s (Dallas) mid-days turns also will be canceled.”

A couple of flights to and from Phoenix also occurred Thursday, but the Phoenix flights will be around only for a few more days.

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Starting Monday, Phoenix-Roswell service will be on hiatus for the foreseeable future.

American Airlines announced March 27 that record-low customer demand nationwide has led the company to decrease its flight services by 60% starting in early April. An additional 10% to 20% of flight reductions are planned for May, but no specifics have been given yet on what that entails.

Customers affected by canceled flights will be contacted directly by American Airlines, which is allowing people to cancel tickets and reschedule later without additional fees.

An unsigned corporate email in response to an interview request indicated the airline plans to continue the Dallas-Roswell flights for now.

Roswell Air Center Deputy Director Mark Bleth said that he isn’t privy to American Airlines’ decision-making, but thinks that Dallas-Ft. Worth service is likely to continue.

“Dallas-Ft. Worth is one of their major hubs,” he said. “I think it is important for them to continue that service.”

The airport terminal building shows the signs of a changed time — from the recently opened Flight Lounge eatery that had to close March 19, to the large signs about quarantine rules, to the closed Walker Aviation Museum site, to the lack of passengers waiting to board or visitors waiting to greet arriving travelers.

But Bleth and Stark said that activity is still occurring at the Air Center.

Charter air service through AV Flight and Cannon and Holloman military flights continue, and the Air Center staff are also focusing on storing unused airline planes here.

About 114 commercial aircraft are parked at the airfield right now, Bleth said. According to American Airlines, that includes 85 of its planes.

Bleth said the latest arrivals are 16 planes from Frontier Airlines, based out of Denver, Colorado. United Airlines also is storing planes in Roswell.

Bleth said the Air Center has kept all its employees and that two city staff usually assigned to the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center have transferred temporarily to help the Air Center.

The Roswell airfield has been storing and maintaining private and commercial aircraft for years, due to the large amount of acreage, low humidity, generally good weather and on-site Maintenance and Repair Operations (MROs). But city leaders stepped up the effort to increase the storage business in March as the coronavirus-caused airline industry slowdown began.

The Air Center receives a $14 a day parking fee, but the MROs also receive income maintaining the aircraft to keep them airworthy, in accordance with Federal Aviation Administration standards.

“No one likes to see this happen to the airline industry,” Bleth said. “But we are happy we are here to help at this time.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.