Belen

There’s more to an airport than arriving and departing airplanes.

At the Alexander Airport west of Belen, there’s also Desert Sky Aviation Inc., which sells and dispenses fuel for airplanes and operates an airport shop.

“People come to us wanting flight lessons. We will supply the instructors,” said Barbara McClain, who co-owns the shop and the fuel supply business with her husband, Larry. But, she adds, “we do not have airplanes.”

The McClains buy, sell and dispense fuel to the pilots. “It’s a way point, an airport to refuel,” Barbara said. “It’s not a destination.”

In the shop, everything has an airplane theme from books about how to fly and aeronautical charts to T-shirts, sweaters and teddy bears wearing flying goggles.

The McClains’ shop is located in the same building as the airport restaurant, which is open on weekends. Then, their business picks up as locals come to eat.

People fly into the airport all week from all over the country.

“Business is increasing all the time,” said Barbara. “We have a very loyal following. The aviation community is a very tight-knit community; they’re good people. They take care of each other.”

Barbara, a registered nurse, came to the business after years working as a nurse and in retail.

Larry managed an airport in California before managing the Coronado Airport. He is a fan of flying. He jokes that he tells people “I love to fly, but I don’t have time; I work at the airport.”

There are some unique gifts in the shop: flight instructor books, bumper stickers, neckties and sweaters with airplanes in the design, coasters with copies of aviation instruments, cookie cutters, desk clocks, pen sets and airplane models from the Smithsonian collection. There are also practical items first-aid kits, small carry-on bags and towels.

“I tried to put together a number of different things, tasteful things you can’t buy anywhere else,” Barbara said.

Someone who wants to learn about flying can buy books of instruction and the headsets pilots use to communicate with other people.

The McClains have been operating the fuel business since January and moved the shop to the airport March 1. Before that, Larry ran the pilot shop and managed Coronado Airport north of Alameda in Albuquerque. Sandia Pueblo owned the airport until it decided to close it.

In the future, the McClains hope to expand the shop and be able to rent airplanes.

They are remodeling the restaurant with the help of the City of Belen, which owns the airport.

“The whole reason we do what we’re doing is because we like people, and they know it,” Barbara said.

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Katherine Saltzstein