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Ascent Aviation outlines Roswell growth plans

The phase one hangar for Ascent Aviation Services, expected to open for operations by June 30, 2022, is shown on a screen behind company President David Querio, who spoke Wednesday at an event held on the Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell campus. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Ascent Aviation Services has contributed more than $260 million to the economies of the Arizona communities where it now operates, and it plans to bring “tens, hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact” to the Roswell area after it opens at the Roswell Air Center, according to its president.

David T. Querio updated area business and government leaders about the company’s plans during the annual meeting of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. held Wednesday at the Instructional Technology Center on the Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell campus. Querio was the keynote speaker at the event.

Querio and Ascent Aviation, which has operations at Tuscon International Airport and Pinal Air Park in Marana, Arizona, announced intentions to expand its aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) business to the Roswell Air Center in September 2020.

The company has said it will contribute $18 million of its own money into the project over five years, but it is also receiving state Local Economic Development Act funding of $4 million, money tied to job creation. About $3 million of a $5 million state capital outlay award obtained by Chaves County is also being used for utilities and infrastructure work for the hangar location at the airfield, which is city of Roswell property.

For phase one of its hangar project, Ascent Aviation plans to erect a 300-foot by 300-foot wide-body fabric hangar created by Rubb Building Systems that is 10 stories high at its highest point.

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“It will be capable of housing the largest transport-category aircraft that has been manufactured today or is contemplated today,” he said.

The hangar will be built on the west side of the airfield near Hangar 1083, where Dean Baldwin Painting operates. The hangar work is expected to start by the end of 2021 and the facility to be “fully operational” by the end of June 2022.

A phase two hangar of similar dimensions is also planned after the first few years of local operations.

Querio and his wife, Valerie, who grew up in Midway, worked at the Roswell airfield before. Querio was an executive for AerSale, another major MRO company, and he said he always felt that the Roswell Air Center was a “golden gem” that was underutilized. He said he thought that was due in part to the state not being willing to invest in it.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down airlines in April 2020, grounding about 4,000 commercial aircraft in 60 days, he took another look at the Roswell Air Center, one of six major U.S. aircraft storage sites that he said he considers ideal for aircraft storage and MRO firms. He said the generally good weather and the airfield itself, including its 13,000-foot runway, are attractive to companies looking for a place to repair or store aircraft.

“Those aircraft being here generate, on average, 15 to 20,000 manhours per aircraft per year,” Querio said.

He further explained that a typical required maintenance check on one wide-body aircraft requires about 100 people working for 40 days, and that the Roswell site will work on more than one aircraft at a time. In Arizona, he said, the company is conducting seven “heavy” maintenance checks at one time between its two locations.

He said Ascent Aviation is a “full life-cycle” MRO, able to provide maintenance, repairs, parts reclamation, interior redesigns and even painting, although it probably will not do those services at Roswell, instead working with Dean Baldwin for that.

For phase two of its Roswell operations, starting about the third year, the company wants to begin converting passenger airliners to freight planes, the biggest business sector since COVID shutdown passenger airlines and expected to remain a major revenue generator during the “COVID hangover” of the next few years.

“We are certified by virtually every major organization globally to work on their aircraft,” he said. “We will be taking that global certification and bringing that here to Roswell as a satellite of our Marana facility, which holds all those authorizations.”

The impact on Roswell will include his company’s payroll, expected to start with about 100 employees and $7 million the first year and growing to 356 employees and $22 million by year five.

Roswell will benefit not only from the company’s direct contributions, he said, but also from the money spent on hotel rooms, restaurants, rental cars and shopping by people who accompany the aircraft, with some staying as long as 40 days and some a couple of nights.

He said that an independent company conducted an economic impact study in 2017 for the Ascent Aviation operation in Marana and determined that the firm’s operations had contributed $260 million over several years to the counties where it operated.

He foresees a similar situation for Roswell, once the company is in phase two of its operations — “tens, hundreds of millions of dollars” in direct and indirect economic impact in the area.

Roswell Air Center also has several other aircraft maintenance, repair and reclamation companies, including AerSale, Cavu Aerospace, Dean Baldwin and General Airframe Support. Globally, the commercial aircraft MRO market was estimated at $44.8 billion in 2020 and expected to grow to $55.6 billion by 2026, according to a report issued in July by Global Industry Analysts Inc. The report projected the 2021 U.S. market at $9.9 billion.

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.