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City seeks agreement with American Airlines

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Roswell city leaders are working to reach an agreement with American Airlines that would provide for uninterrupted service until at least March. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Roswell leaders are negotiating with American Airlines management on an agreement that would allow uninterrupted commercial passenger service to the area, said Mayor Dennis Kintigh.

A decision is expected by the end of the week.

“There is a small potential of salvaging the October service, very small,” Kintigh said. “We are working on a revenue guarantee that could possibly be acceptable to American and would continue service to Dallas and restart the service to Phoenix.”

Kintigh said that city officials had talked with American Airlines management Tuesday morning, but they began discussions the night of Aug. 19.

That’s when the city received word ahead of a press announcement that the airline intended to suspend flights to Roswell and 14 other smaller cities from Oct. 7 until at least Nov. 3.

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American Airlines has been providing daily service at the Roswell Air Center to and from Dallas since the required coronavirus-related shutdown of all airline service in March. But the airline discontinued the Phoenix flights in April due to low demand.

Air Center Director Scott Stark has said that the state’s 14-day self-isolation requirement for most out-of-state travelers has hampered air passenger demand here.

In its Thursday announcement, American Airlines said its temporary suspension of flights resulted not only from low passenger counts, but also the Sept. 30 expiration of a minimum service requirement of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Emergency Security (CARES) Act.

Under that federal legislation passed in March, American Airlines received $5.8 billion from the Payroll Support Program. In return, it and other airlines receiving money agreed to provide at least minimum service until the end of September to all cities it had been flying to as of March 1.

Kintigh said he expects a decision about whether American Airlines can continue service to Roswell in about 48 to 72 hours. An agreement has to be reached quickly because the airline is making decisions now about aircraft and personnel arrangements for its October flight schedules.

Kintigh said the city already has some money budgeted for a minimum revenue guarantee (MRG) for air service. Originally the funds had been allocated to support the city’s efforts to expand service to and from Denver with another commercial airline. That effort began before the pandemic and is aided by a $750,000 federal grant.

Kintigh said that the Roswell City Council will not have to vote on the MRG if the agreement reached with American Airlines is within the city’s previously budgeted amount. But the council could vote during a special meeting Sept. 3 if the amount needed exceeds the allocated funds. Kintigh said the amount or the MRG could not be disclosed while negotiations are underway.

An MRG also could involve the financial support and cooperation of other nearby cities and counties, as was the case with prior MRGs used to establish flight service with American Airlines.

Kintigh said that all U.S. airlines, including American, are hoping that Congress and the federal government will provide more funding for passenger air service. That might be crucial in any decision to make short interruptions in service more prolonged.

“If they get that financial support, they can resume flights in November,” he said.

Because of the uncertainty over federal funding, the city wants to come up with an agreement that would guarantee American Airline service until at least March.

The city also is keeping its congressional delegation and state legislators informed and asking for their help with federal funding for air service.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small wrote a letter Aug. 24 to Doug Parker, chief executive officer for American Airlines, urging him to continue service to Roswell.

“As negotiations in Congress continue, I will continue to work with my colleagues to extend PSP (Payroll Support Program) through 2021,” she wrote, “and I ask that American Airlines recognize the positive impact it has on Roswell and maintain limited air service until a deal can be reached.”

In a Tuesday phone interview, she said, “I have heard overwhelming response from Roswell and as well as the region about the impact this will have on folks who travel regularly,” she said. “Dallas is a main connection point to folks in New Mexico.”

She said the Roswell Air Center is an important economic engine for the city and that the city and American Airlines have had a mutually beneficial relationship that has meant needed jobs for Roswell and revenues for the airlines. Both also have benefited from aircraft storage at the Roswell airfield, she said.

Kintigh and Mike Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., also stressed the importance of commercial air service to the area.

“We are an isolated community. I prefer the term oasis to island, but we are a long ways,” Kintigh said. “For us to recover and for this region to recover, we need to be able to move people and goods easily. People coming and going — it is critical to do that promptly and easily.”

Espiritu said, “I do believe it is a significant impact to our economy, not only our current businesses but any future businesses we might try to attract here for future jobs.”

He said the local EDC is supporting city efforts and reaching out to federal and state legislative representatives.

Kintigh added that the city is considering negotiations with another carrier, if it turns out that American Airlines cannot continue its service to Roswell. He could not provide additional information on that at this time.

Torres Small said that no matter what happens with the American Airlines decision, the Air Center should continue to work on expanded commercial air service.

“We are going to have to continue to diversify the services provided at the Roswell Air Center,” she said.

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

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