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Air Center hangar could break ground in May

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Navy decides not to hold training here in early 2021

The Roswell Air Center staff had some progress on its latest hangar project to share, but also some disappointing news regarding military pilot training for early 2021.

Western LLC, the developer of the planned wide-body hangar at the Air Center, is working with the city of Roswell on the ground lease for the Air Center property at the same time it is negotiating the sublease with the tenant, Ascent Aviation Services of Arizona, said Western president Brad Henderson.

He talked about the project during a Thursday meeting of the City of Roswell Airport Advisory Commission.

“We really want to be breaking ground in early May,” Henderson said. “Everything is looking good on our side so far.”

He said that his company plans to have a certificate of occupancy by April 4, 2022, so that Ascent Aviation can begin its maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) business in Roswell. Ascent has been operating for four decades, with current sites at Tucson International Airport and Pinal Air Park, Arizona.

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In a deal announced by the New Mexico Economic Development Department in late September, the Ascent Aviation expansion will mean the hiring of as many as 100 mechanics and support staff upon its start here. After five years, the company expects to have 300 to 360 employees, the company has said.

The project is supported by the private investment of Western and Ascent, as well as state Local Economic Development Act funding and state capital outlay money received by Chaves County.

The county and the city are negotiating a memorandum of understanding on the use of the funds for site work, which is likely to include adding new water lines.

Air Center Director Scott Stark also talked about a change in preliminary plans regarding Navy pilot training here.

He said a commander of the Chief of Naval Air Training, a unit based in Corpus Christi, Texas, told him this week that it has decided not to come to the Roswell airfield in January for its basic pilot training, which typically involves several branches of the military.

CNATRA has conducted its training here in the first three to four months of the year on several occasions because the Corpus Christi area often has fog during that period, limiting the number of training missions that can occur.

“It has nothing to do with Roswell. It has nothing to do with their budget,” said Stark. “It has to do with the demand for pilots.”

Stark said that airplane manufacturers have gotten behind in their production schedules due to the COVID-19 crisis, so the military will not receive the airplanes it was expecting in early 2021. He said that means the military has less need for pilots at the current time.

In addition to missing the educational and professional benefits of having military aviators in Roswell, Mayor Dennis Kintigh said the Navy’s decision means the loss of an estimated $2.8 million in lodging, food, rental cars and other spending for the local economy.

Stark said that Roswell is still in the “pipeline” for future Navy training sessions.

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