The White Sands Regional Airport has soared into the jet age after a major upgrade to their runway. The airport’s runway extension is finally complete and is fully functional and will be unveiled in a grand opening ceremony on May 6 at 10 a.m. at the airport.
Airport Advisory Board Chairman Lance Grace said the primary purpose for the runway extension was to provide safe operations for swept-wing jet planes. This type of aircraft needs a longer runway for take off and landing. Swept-wing jets have higher take off and landing speeds resulting in longer take off and landing rolls.
Grace said for this reason the runway must be extended so the jets can take off heavily loaded and have the ability to continue to take off or to stop in the remaining runway if they have a problem.
“The primary purpose of this runway is to provide the capability of the swept-wing jet powered air tankers to safely take-off, and that is there now,” he said. “What they’re finishing up right now is the lighting which will be done in a few weeks. The painting of the runway such as the stripes, symbols and numbers will be delayed until January of next year, but it is still functional.”
The cost of the runway extension totaled a little over $7 million. The runway extension was mostly funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), they provided 90 percent of the finances. Five percent of the finances came from the state of New Mexico and another five percent from the City of Alamogordo.
Grace said even though the unveiling of the new runway is on May 6 it has already been used to help fend off the forest fire in Ruidoso. The runway was also used recently for training and maintenance by Neptune Aviation Services. Neptune Aviation is an aerial firefighting company that works closely with the U.S. Forest Service to fight forest and wildfires nationally.
“Interestingly, the first use of the tankers was the Ruidoso fire. A BAe-146 took off completely loaded and dropped on the Ruidoso fire. That was not possible until just now. It’s already been used before the grand opening,” he said. “The runway was also used during February and March for the Neptune training here. We had to do some last minute stuff with the FAA so the construction can go on. The physical runway was there to support the Neptune training, it made it by a couple of days. It was an effort.”
The length of the runway before the extension measured 7,500 feet, it now measures 9,205 feet by a 150 foot wide paved runway with a maximum load capability of 120,000 pounds. The extension was added to the end of Runway 21, which is the southwest end. The added runway length allows slurry bombers to take off fully loaded in hot weather conditions.
The runway extension means Alamogordo will continue being one of three heavy air tanker bases in the country. White Sands Regional Airport will be one of the bases that will stay open all year long and be the centralized location for the U.S. Forest Service for reloading and dispatching slurry bombers.
“The White Sands Regional Airport will be the U.S. Forest Service’s dispatch center for reloading and dispatching,” Grace said. “It will service New Mexico, eastern Arizona, Texas, southern Colorado and the Oklahoma panhandle. It will all be accomplished from here.”
With the runway extension being completed Neptune Aviation will be able to bring their P2V airplanes back home from Missoula, Montana. The P2V airplanes were housed in Alamogordo 22 years ago. The Alamogordo airport currently houses seven P2V airplanes.
“Neptune has increased their presence here and they plan on increasing their presence here,” Grace said. “The hangar was also modified to be able to house BAe-146 engines and also to house the C-23 Sherpa. They’re not here yet but they will be used in that facility in the near future.”
The C-23 Sherpa is a small military transport aircraft used by the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.
Grace said the Airport Advisory Board has talked to local and state officials and they are very pleased that the runway extension is completed. The runway extension has been one of the most costly projects for the City of Alamogordo.
“They all love it believe it or not, it’s amazing to do something where no one is complaining. It’s nothing but good,” Grace said. “The airport has soared into the jet age. It’s long enough and as it turned out, the strength is more than three times greater than advertised and that was discovered to see how strong the old runway was.”
The grand opening ceremony for the runway extension will be May 6 at 10 a.m. at White Sands Regional Airport.