by Dianne Stallings
New Mexico Aviation Department officials called Ruidoso’s municipal airport “a jewel,” and congratulated staff for its high level of maintenance and operations.
Reporting last week to village councilors, Dave Ploeger, director of State Aviation, said he and Airport Development Administrator Jane Lucero completed a New Mexico Airport Systems Plan Update, summarizing the needs of the state’s airports and providing information about the economic importance of each airport, land use protection issues, project and funding needs and the value of each airport as an asset.
It pulls in large numbers of visitors during fly-ins and other events, necessitating a temporary control tower being set up for special events. The airport also receives heavy use each year by firefighting organizations, the Border Patrol and Federal Bureau of Investigations, Lucero said.
“To build the same airport from scratch today in 2008 dollars would cost $28 million,” she said. “That’s a 12 percent increase since 2005. You guys have quite a jewel out there. Justin and staff are doing a great job. It’s clean,
Ploeger explained that his agency encourages advance aviation in
Lucero said Ruidoso meets all criteria, except the number of hangars. That failing also is common, be-cause FAA will not pay for hangars, she said. Private investors pay.
Ruidoso needs an airport layout plan if village officials want to continue to collect federal funding, Lucero said. “You need a master plan looking out 20 years to know what you need. This is a great location, no noise, but still there is some development coming around the airport. I think of noise zoning to protect the future,” she said.
About $510,000 of capital improvement projects were identified in the study. Airport Manager Justin King laid out $8 million in projects for the next five years, but without a master plan, no long-term projects can be undertaken, Lucero said.
The last economic impact study on the airport was prepared in 2003.
“I’m a planner, not an economist,” Lucero said, adding that a new study needs to gauge direct impact associated with airports such as number of employees, concessionaires, fuel sales, as well as indirect ties to spending by visitors. Those dollars then are multiplied for the second around as employees spend their salaries in the community.
Councilor Jim Stoddard asked if Lucero’s office had a guide to develop a master plan. She replied that King intends to do one in 2011, to coincide with the next round of funding.
King said he has a waiting list for hangars. Each structure costs about $350,000 to $400,000, but it doesn’t take long to pay back the investment with rental income earned off the space.
Ploeger said he’s trying to visit all of the publicly-owned airports within his first year on the job and is down to eight out of the 50 plus
He said when he arrived unannounced at Sierra Blanca, he thought the airport “looked wonderful.” The grass was mowed, the pavement was in good shape, all the lights worked and the buildings looked well-maintained.
“It’s hard to explain to the public (the importance of aviation),” he said. “They see it as a rich man’s pursuit. They don’t understand the value to a community. When someone flies in to do business, the first thing they see is the airport and if it looks like a mess, it doesn’t make a good first impression. Yours is a good piece of advertising.”
While it costs to keep up a FAA Part 139 license to accommodate larger planes and commercial service, “don’t give it up,” he advised councilors. “Once you do, it’s tough to get it back.”
Lucero said three other airports gave up their designations two years ago and two of them are trying to earn it back.
Their only criticism was the lack of a shuttle to provide transportation into the village. For a casual visitor, that could be important, Ploeger said. Corporations probably would send a car for a client or company official, he said.
Lucero said having 24-hour on call car rentals covers most transport needs, along with the helpfulness of airport and village officials.