A recommended configuration option to accommodate future growth in aviation at Sierra Blanca Regional Airport was adopted by Ruidoso village councilors and is on its way to federal aviation officials for review and approval.
The option is part of a master plan for the airport being assembled with the help of an appointed committee and Terry Page with Delta Airport Consultants.
“There’s nothing wrong with the airport you’ve got,” Page told councilors at their meeting last week. “It’s a beautiful facility and it is well maintained, operated and managed. You have something to be proud of there. If you had to replace it, if you could somewhere else, you would be talking $50 million to $100 million. It’s a wonderful asset for your community.”
Airport Manager Dave Pearce said members of a master plan committee worked with staff and the consultant on the plan. They represented a variety of backgrounds and included the village tourism director, the Ruidoso Valley Chamber of Commerce director and people with aviation backgrounds, he said. Pearce singled out for appreciation Al Ackerman, author of “My Journey West: A pilot’s life time in aviation” and formerly a pilot for President Lyndon B. Johnson, as being especially helpful.
Pearce said Page was a great asset with more than 35 years experience with the Federal Aviation Administration. He knows “the other side of the fence,” Pearce said.
“The objective here is to take the alternative to the FAA and let them review it,” Pearce said. “If they agree with it, it will have to come back and we have to do some other things before we finish the entire master plan.
“The goal today is to bring you up to speed as to where we are with the master plan for the municipal airport, and to show the preferred alternative the master plan advisory committee has come up with” Page said.
“It’s not much of a plan if you can’t afford it. It’s a plan we believe is very affordable for the village.”
The master plan process for airports is dictated by the FAA, he said. Putting together a plan requires planning and public involvement up front, which was the advisory committee, the written comments from pilots and questionnaires about use of the airport and what they would like to see at the airport, he said. Public meetings were conducted, the last in November, and an inventory of what comprises the airport property, such as existing facilities, runways and taxiways, was completed, Page said.
“Then you forecast what you will need in the future, where aviation is going nationwide and in your community,” he said.
The result was several alternatives to meet that future aviation demand at five years, 10 years and 20 years, he said, also considering environment conditions and financial costs.
“The final product is master plan report with a set of drawings showing what it looks like today and at times in the future,” Page said. “We hope to move to the next step, a financial plan coordinating with the FAA, and finalizing the document. We’re about two months behind schedule, but we hope to catch up and wind down in March or April. When we get toward the end, I’d like to come back and have a working session with the council, take a bit more time and go into a bit more detail.”
The master plan is not an obligation for the village, it is a plan to logically lay out the airport as demand develops, Page said.
First official master plan
Page said Ruidoso’s airport is unique, because no master plan can be found locally, at a state level or at the federal level.
“There was never a master plan in the past,” he said. “I’ve worked with more than 100 airports and never have seen one that didn’t has a master plan at the beginning or at some point along the way. You have a beautiful facility, but how you got there….”Councilor Rafael Salas disagreed, saying master plans existed, but may have been misplaced over the years. A master plan is how two different runways were added, he contended. The airport “has come a long way” using the revenue from a dedicated 1 percent gross receipts tax, he said.
Page said growth in aviation is not toward single-engine aircraft, but mainly corporate jets.
“Your airport receives a lot of seasonal traffic summer and winter,” Page said. “Corporate jets are a big component of your business. Hangar demand has outstripped supply. They have to juggle to keep those expensive airplanes under cover.”
Justification also exists for a runway extension, because in altitudes of more than 7,000 feet above sea level in the summer, airplanes don’t perform as well, Page said.
“The wings don’t lift as well and it takes longer runways to get them off the ground. We have plans for that,” he said.
The preferred option would move vehicle parking to the airport side of the highway, making space for more corporate hangars and a mix of sizes as demand indicates, he said. The existing parking area could be used for long-term stays.
“You can lease the land and have someone build it or do it yourself,” he said of more hangar construction.
The fuel farm also would be relocated to the airport side and expanded, he said, adding that, “There’s plenty of space out there,” allowing flexibility.
His aim is to take advantage of FAA funding by combining projects, Page said. The agency will fund 90 percent of an approved aviation project. The aviation division of the New Mexico Department of Transportation will cover about 5 percent and the rest is the local match.
“Private investment always is welcome,” he said, referring to land leases for hangars.
The money from the Aviation Trust Fund is not general revenue, it comes from user taxes, he said.
“If you don’t fly, you aren’t paying into the fund,” Page said.
The focus the first year would be rehabilitation of existing pavements to avoid deterioration, a project eligible for FAA funding, he said.
The cost of projects over the first two years might hit $2 million, but Page said he thought he could lower that figure.
Runway extensions are costly, but should be tackled in the six to 10 year range, he said. The FAA would fund $19 million of a $20 million runway project, he said. A new terminal building also might be considered as the gateway to the community for those arriving by air.
“The plan we have is realistic, not pie in the sky,” Page said.
“Realistically, it could be funded. It would meet the needs as they arise and accommodate longterm growth.”
Any local dollars invested would be returned eight times, he said.