Increased oil and gas activity in Carlsbad prompted a $4.6 million application to the U.S. Department of Transportation to fund runway reconstruction at Cavern City Air Terminal, per City of Carlsbad documents.
Tuesday Carlsbad City Councilor’s agreed to send an application to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the funds which would replace deteriorating pavement at the airport south of Carlsbad.
If approved, the federal government and the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s (NMDOT) Aviation Division would share 99 percent of the costs and the City of Carlsbad would match with 1 percent of the cost, according to a memorandum to City Council from City of Carlsbad Deputy City Administrator Ted Cordova.
He said the runway was in severe need of reconstruction.
“The existing pavement is believed to be 30 years old. This project will ultimately provide the City with a serviceable pavement for the next 20 years,” read part of the City’s application to the FAA.
The current runway is 5,800 feet long and 100 feet wide and would be reconstructed at a narrower width to meet FAA rules, per the application.
A pavement condition index (PCI) study indicated need for replacement as large business jet activity exists at Cavern City Air Terminal “due to the oil and gas industry,” according to the application.
“Boutique Airlines operates a commercial service to and from Albuquerque,” the application read.
Based in California, Boutique Air operates within the City of Carlsbad as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Essential Air Service Agreement (ESA).
Boutique Air has provided air service to Albuquerque and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) since 2015.
“The United States Department of Transportation is mandated to provide eligible EAS communities with access to the National Air Transportation System. This is generally accomplished by subsidizing two round trips a day with 30- to 50-seat aircraft, or additional frequencies with aircraft with 9-seat or fewer, usually to a large- or medium-hub airport,” according to USDOT’s website.
In June of this year, 929 people flew to and from Carlsbad via Boutique Air, according to City of Carlsbad airport data.
From January through May, nearly 2,800 people flew out of Carlsbad to connecting flights with major airlines in the Duke City and the DFW Metroplex, according to City of Carlsbad numbers.
Located nearly 80 miles from the Cavern City Terminal is Roswell’s Air Center.
More than a generation ago the airports in Roswell and in Carlsbad were used for military purposes.
Cavern City Air Terminal was used during World War II to train aircraft bombing personnel of the United States Army Air Force Training Command.
Roswell’s Air Center was the former Roswell Army International Airfield during World War II and Walker Air Force Base during the Cold War, when tensions were high between the United States and former Soviet Union from 1947 to 1991, according to the City of Roswell’s website.
The Roswell Air Center was developed after the closure of Walker Air Force Base in 1967.
“In 1966 the Air Force announced that Walker AFB would close. This was during a round of base closings and consolidations as the Defense Department struggled to pay the expenses of the Vietnam War within the budgetary limits set by Congress,” per the City of Roswell website.
Fifteen years ago, the City of Roswell and American Airlines entered an agreement for commuter flights between Roswell and DFW via American Eagle, said Scott Stark, director of the Roswell Air Center.
Six years ago, American Airlines added flights from Roswell to Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix.
“Before these flights began Roswell had Mesa Airlines flying to Albuquerque and DFW a few times a day with 19 passengers per flight. The first American Eagle fights had 45 passenger jets,” Stark said.
He said American Eagle upgraded its fleet to 65 passenger jets and passenger traffic increased from Roswell to DFW and Phoenix.
“Roswell passengers are about 75 percent business flyers. So, the increased convenience of jets to these hubs is a boon to those doing business in Roswell,” Stark said.
He said American Airlines is the only airline flying out of Roswell and passenger’s boarding flights average around 60,000 per year.
“Pre COVID (-19) numbers were growing at about 5 percent a year. That’s a pretty good clip for a small airport. We are currently in a recovery from the pandemic and are loading about 8 percent fewer passengers than in 2019,” Stark said.
He said Roswell could see nearly 56,000 passengers flying to DFW and Phoenix for the rest of 2022.
Stark said infrastructure work at the Roswell airport happens annually with FFA and NMDOT Aviation grants.
“Many of these projects are dedicated to maintaining and improving the massive infrastructure we already have. However, we do have some current projects underway this year to expand and improve water delivery to the southeast side of the airfield and a large hangar project,” he said.
He said an airport master plan included extra taxiways for future needs if demand for travel rose.
Stark said does not view Roswell’s air service as a competitor to Carlsbad.
“Carlsbad’s service with Boutique using the smaller Pilatus aircraft is convenient for Carlsbad, but does not hinder Roswell,” he said.
Besides jet service, the U.S. Air Force launched stratospheric balloons for various projects and the airport serves as a storage facility for a number of used jets, the City of Roswell website noted.