Another commercial airline, Icelandair, has decided to store some airplanes at the Roswell Air Center, bringing the total of parked planes to about 500, according to Air Center Director Scott Stark.
The parking and storage of grounded airplanes continues to be a bright spot at the Air Center as commercial passenger service nationwide is hampered by coronavirus fears, travel restrictions and the lack so far of additional federal relief funding for the industry.
The boon that aircraft storage and parking has created at the Air Center is prompting the city-owned facility to make plans for possible expansion of its aircraft parking area, Stark said as part of an update on Air Center operations to members of the city of Roswell Airport Advisory Commission during the group’s Thursday meeting.
Future of passenger service discussed
Stark said that continued passenger service with American Airlines, the only commercial airline now flying in and out of the Roswell airport, remains uncertain as Congress and the Trump Administration have yet to reach an agreement to provide additional funding to U.S. airlines.
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“We are still somewhat in limbo with them,” Stark said. “There is still nothing to stop them from canceling any routes.”
American Airlines had announced publicly on Aug. 20, and informed city officials the evening before, that it intended to interrupt service to Roswell and 14 other smaller cities from Oct. 7 until Nov. 3. The timing of the announcement was due to the Sept. 30 expiration of a provision that was part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) payroll support package for the industry. That provision required airlines to guarantee service to airports without other airline service.
Service to and from Dallas continued after city officials were able to convince American Airlines to reverse its flight suspension decision. The airline decided to keep service until about Dec. 1.
American Airlines also negotiated a similar agreement with Stillwater, Oklahoma. Sioux City, Iowa, and Joplin, Missouri, also were able to keep service because it was determined later that those cities are part of the federal Essential Air Service program ensuring that they have commercial airline service.
Stark said after the meeting that the city is willing to negotiate with American Airlines anytime about extending the flights beyond November.
Previously city officials said that, if need be, they were willing to provide a minimum revenue guarantee or pay for unfilled seats to keep the flights to and from Dallas and perhaps restart the flights to Phoenix, which ended in April due to lack of demand. It also might be possible to waive the $54,000 a month parking fees that American Airlines pays the Air Center as part of the deal.
Stark said that passenger counts for September 2020 were about 50% lower than counts for September 2019.
Storage activity booming
Icelandair, or Icelandic, is the latest commercial airline service to decide to store some planes at the Roswell Air Center during the COVID crisis.
Stark said one airplane was due to arrive Thursday and that three of the company’s planes were expected in total.
The Air Center had a record 486 planes stored a week ago, with one to two arriving daily since. Stark said he was confident the number was 500 or more by Thursday.
Kintigh said he thinks that shows the strength of the Air Center.
“These are international airlines that can literally go anywhere in the world if they wanted to store their planes, and the fact they have chosen to come to Roswell I think speaks highly of the operations we have here,” said Mayor Dennis Kintigh.
Many different airlines have chosen to store planes here, including American, United, Frontier, Air New Zealand and Copa Airlines of Panama.
As a result of this activity, the city is earning about $155,000 a month for parking fees, which is 250% compared to September 2019. Landing fees are up by about 278% compared to a year ago, Stark said, due not only to the number of planes but the weight of planes.
Stark is working with the engineering firm of Armstrong Consultants to plan future parking pads on about 20 to 30 acres of the airfield so that the Roswell Air Center will have an idea of how to expand its parking capabilities if needed.
He said the expanded parking area might not be needed once airline travel picks back up, but he wants the Air Center to be prepared should more parking capacity be required.
“My suggestion would be to pick the area and kind of start doing … some preliminary mapping of what types of aircraft go there and what those facilities might look like,” he said.
A preliminary plan is expected to be presented at the Nov. 19 meeting of the group.
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.