City Council Considers Commercial Flight Operations Out Of Las Cruces International Airport
Plans are taking flight to authorize commercial aviation at Las Cruces International Airport following Monday’s city council meeting. The group heard from industry consultants in a work session about plans to court American Airlines to Las Cruces.
Bill Tomcich, a partner with the consulting firm Airplanners, said the hope is to be able to offer direct flights to places like Phoenix and Dallas.
“The number one and two markets are Dallas and Phoenix and with the competition that exists there today, we believe that is one reason Las Cruces potentially could be very attractive to American Airlines right now,” Tomcich said. “Because currently in El Paso the majority of those passengers in those two markets, as well as many points beyond, are actually traveling on Southwest Airlines.”
Airplanners believes the opportunity for American Airlines to hold a monopoly on commercial flights out of the city will be a large incentive for the airline. Kent Myers, with Airplanners, told the council that the number of people traveling from Las Cruces to the El Paso Airport is substantial enough to sustain operations out of Las Cruces.
“In 2019 there was 650 people every day, average, [who] left Las Cruces, drove down to the El Paso Airport and departed on an aircraft,” Myers said. “At the same time, on that same day, approximately 650 passengers landed at the El Paso Airport and went to Las Cruces. To take the area within Las Cruces…that represents 13.6% of all air traffic going through the El Paso Airport.”
Councilor Gabe Vasquez stated he’s in support of the initial concept and looks forward to seeing how the project continues to develop.
“This is really the most compelling analysis that I have found for commercial air service in Las Cruces,” Vasquez said. “Because we've talked about it, I think, like we used to talk about the Olive Garden coming into town…Initially I am very supportive of moving forward with this concept based on the data that was presented today. It certainly seems like we have a viable market, and I can hear the excitement in your voices, which is a good sign. Because I know you guys do this for a living, and you're the experts.”
Already, improvement plans are underway for the airport—including landscape additions that promote native plants and sustainable practices as well as changes to the front entrance of the facility to make it more welcoming. The changes are only the start of a much larger plan that will include further road development in the area.
Councilor Johana Bencomo shared her excitement about the possibility of commercial flights but also pointed out the estimated $3.5 million cost of facility upgrades might seem unreasonable to some.
“Some of the naysayers will always be there, right? But some of the folks are also saying, perhaps even like me, we're just seeing dollar signs, right?” Bencomo said. “I think for the public it's: ‘What is the return on investment? What are we ensuring that we're not trading something our community needs so that we can get this aspirational airport?’ Right? I think, though, that's some of the communication pieces that really need to get out there because I think it'll help people understand, okay, we're not sacrificing certain things in our community in order to get this other thing.”
Consultant Guy Rouelle reminded the group the funding mechanism from the FAA changes as an airport grows. Currently the airport receives $150,000 a year, but Rouelle said that number will change to one million annually. He also broke down how much the city could potentially be on the line for to get the project up and running.
“We have to understand that although it's $3.5 million, the engagement with FAA [means] there are discretionary funds that they may be able to offer up,” Rouelle said. “Now, when discretionary funds come in, it doesn't necessarily mean that the city has to pay the entire dollar amount. Usually discretionary funds come in, it's a 90/10 split: 90% FAA, 5% New Mexico DOT and then 5% from the city.”
Kent Myers, with Airplanners, told the council that while he knows there will be those against the project, he truly believes Las Cruces is ready for commercial aviation.
“There will be naysayers. There will be people that will not believe this is going to happen until the plane shows up the first day. I will honor the challenge,” Myers said. “You deserve this as a community. You need this as a community. You need the dot on the map, and I can get fired up and emotional about this because it can happen, and it will change your community forever.”