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Lt. Gov. ‘impressed’ by Air Center, community involvement

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A recent tour of the Roswell Air Center by Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and local elected officials showed the economic potential of the aviation hub, but did not result in a list of legislative or funding priorities at this time.

New Mexico Lt. Gov. Howie Morales (File Photo)

Morales, who toured some of the Roswell Air Center businesses on Oct. 29 along with Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh and State Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R-Roswell), said that he anticipates that additional conversations could be occurring before the 2021 legislative session begins Jan. 19.

“I do think there will be more discussions to see what potential partnerships might be available,” Morales said.

As previously reported in the Roswell Daily Record, Morales also was in Roswell in late October for a “listening tour” to hear about the experiences and concerns of educators striving to educate students during the coronavirus crisis.

Morales said that he, Kintigh and Pirtle talked about the aviation technology job training program at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell; toured the local hangar and facilities of Sceye Inc., which is developing a new type of airship at sites here and in Moriarty; discussed the airport terminal; and talked about some of the other businesses operating at the airfield.

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“It was impressive just to see that type of research and development taking place in Chaves County and then the collaboration that is there with the local government, with the city and with Eastern,” he said.

The Roswell Air Center, while experiencing difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has seen some new developments as well.

It has seen huge growth in its storage of commercial airline planes that have been grounded as worldwide air travel has slowed. It now has about 500 airplanes, or somewhere near $20 billion worth of aircraft, stored at the airfield, with local maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) businesses working to ensure that the planes are maintained as needed. Kintigh said that one plane means about two full-time jobs.

United, Frontier, American Airlines, Air New Zealand, Icelandic Air and Copa Airlines of Panama are among the companies storing planes here.

Sceye, which built its hangar here in 2017, also is a business of interest to state officials, who have provided $5 million in Local Economic Development Act funds for the company’s $40 million planned expansion somewhere in New Mexico once it begins to develop its much larger commercial airships.

In addition, Ascent Aviation Services of Arizona, a full-service MRO, has received local legislative allocations and state funds to expand to the Roswell Air Center.

The company has said it plans to hire about 100 to 120 aviation mechanics and support staff after its new hangar on the west side of the airfield is built, which should be in about a year. Eventually it intends to have 360 local employees.

Kintigh said that the hangar project is complex due to the number of entities involved and that an update is expected to be given during the Roswell City Council meeting on Thursday.

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.