BELEN—As the economy in most cities and states has slowed down because of COVID-19 pandemic, the Belen Regional Airport — also known as the Belen Alexander Airport — is hoping new development will bring new revenue.
During the May 4 council meeting, city councilors approved a task order for $468,806 with Armstrong Consultants, Inc., for runway rehab, design and construction services, which will be covered 100 percent by an FAA grant through the CARES Act. The city had initially set aside $800,000 in the airport’s budget for the project, but it will now be able to save that funding.
The council also approved buying a 5,000 gallon jet refuel truck worth $62,995 — $30,000 of which will be paid by the FAA CARES Act grant, and the remaining balance paid by the U.S. Air Force’s 58th Special Operations Wing, which has been using the airport for training since 2016.
John Thompson, the airport manager, told the council the fuel truck will increase the airport’s revenue, although he didn’t want to speculate by how much.
“People call in all the time asking for fuel prices because corporate pilots want full-service fueling,” Thompson said. “We can charge 50 cents more per gallon than self-serve for full-service fueling. A single jet can fuel up from 300 to 1,000 gallons easily.”
Thompson said with the refueling truck, more pilots will be tempted to land and fuel at the local airport rather than at the Sunport and Double Eagle in Albuquerque because of the high traffic in the area.
“It will draw people to our airport, especially with our fuel prices,” Thompson said.
While the council approved the task order and the refueling truck, they did table a request to hire a line service technician who would refuel the planes on a daily basis at the airport. Thompson said while he is qualified to do the task, as manager, he would require help.
Councilor Frank Ortega questioned whether or not the city should hire an employee since a hiring freeze was put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Roseann Peralta, the city’s finance manager, told the council the airport is “pretty much its own separate entity” and has been self-sustaining and carrying a profit. She told the council hiring an employee would not effect the city’s general fund because funding the position come from the agreement with the Air Force.
The council did table the request to hire a line service technician until the next meeting, which will take place on Monday, May 18.
As the airport continues to expand its services, Thompson also presented the council a design of a proposed terminal, which could include a main fire station, a fixed-base operation and a cafe with a conference room.
“We believe it will draw people to the diamond of an airport,” Thompson said.
Adam Ambro, an architect with Gensler, an architect firm that is a subcontractor for Armstrong Consultants, said they’ve been working for the past two months on the concept design phase. He said there were a couple of priorities they worked on, including proper emergency access for fire trucks to have direct access to the airfield and runways, and the ARFF (Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting) facilities, including five vehicle bays, a dispatch office, dormitory and break rooms.
The 17,000 square foot, two-story building would also include a cafe, common meeting spaces, such as conference rooms, which could be rented out to the public for different occasions, and an outdoor patio.
Ambro presented the council with two concepts of the facility, one with a gable roof and another with a single-slope roof.
“We think there is a real potential to create a building for safety operations and could be a community asset,” he said.
Mayor Jerah Cordova asked how much the building would cost, and was told between $5-8 million.
Thompson said he and City Manager Andrew DiCamillo have been talking to USDA about very low-interest loans, and there are other grants that might be available.
Belen Fire Chief Bret Ruff told the council the city could claim it as a main station, which could qualify for state fire funds on a yearly basis.
Ruff told the council a recommendation for taking over the current airport fire facility will be coming before them at the next meeting.
DiCamillo, who was calling into the meeting from his home in Aztec, N.M., said he’s been speaking with Pedro Rael, the New Mexico Aviation Division Director for the state, and said he’s expressed interest possibly in a hangar facility for mechanics and a school.
Thompson said he hopes to break ground later this year on the proposed terminal, possibly in November or December.
Last month, the council approved a land-lease agreement with Joshua Sanchez, who plans on building a hangar at the airport.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.