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From Tamalewood to Hollywood

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

American Airlines will resume direct flights between Santa Fe and Los Angeles in April on a temporary basis. City officials are hopeful the airline will bring back daily direct flights to help boost the film industry. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

American Airlines is set to bring back direct flights between Los Angeles and the Santa Fe Regional Airport on a temporary basis, which could benefit the city’s burgeoning film industry. But city officials would prefer to see daily flights between the two cities, which they say would have a greater impact not just on the film industry, but the local economy as a whole.

As of now, American Airlines flights are scheduled on Saturdays only, meaning round-trip passengers would have to stay a week if they didn’t want to make any stops in between. The direct flights are scheduled for takeoff beginning April 11. The airline plans to maintain a Saturday schedule through Oct. 24.

It’s uncertain if the airline will continue the nonstop flights beyond that date.

“We’re always evaluating our network based on supply and demand, and look forward to starting this new service,” American spokeswoman Nichelle Tait said in an email.

The flights will be on a Bombardier CRJ700 series airplane with nine first class seats and 56 seats in main cabin. Outbound flights are scheduled to leave Santa Fe at 12:47 p.m. and arrive at LAX at 2:03 p.m. local time, according to the American Airlines website. The return flight will take off at 11:20 a.m. and arrive in Santa Fe at 2:19 p.m.

Round-trip tickets are selling for $172 for basic economy, $242 for the main cabin and $520 for first class.

Between 2009 and 2015, American offered direct flights from Santa Fe to Los Angeles on a daily basis, and at one point there were two flights per day. Airport manager Mark Baca said the airline cancelled the daily flights due to low ridership.

Baca said the new flights will serve as an experiment of sorts to see if American will want to provide more frequent trips in the future.

“It’s a good thing we’re getting this flight to test the waters and see what kind of interest we can get,” he said.

The Santa Fe airport already has nonstop flights to three other cities: Dallas, Denver and Phoenix.

Local officials long for the return of daily flights between the City Different and the City of Angels, which could boost Santa Fe’s growing film reputation.

Santa Fe was recently listed as the third best small town on MovieMaker’s annual roll of “best places to live and work as a moviemaker.”

Evidence of that is the open casting call for the Netflix production of “The Harder They Fall,” which will take place from 5 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Hotel Santa Fe & Spa.

Albuquerque, which already offers daily non-stop flights between the two cities, was ranked No. 1 on the MovieMaker list for big cities for the second year in a row.

Jennifer LaBar-Tapia, film liaison at the Santa Fe Film Office, said the weekly flights will make accessing Santa Fe a little bit easier, but she’d like to see flights more often than just once a week.

“I don’t know how conducive it will be for film productions, because a lot of our above-the-line (movie creative types) who are coming out of the LA region like to go home for the weekend,” LaBar-Tapia said. “They have their families, or they like to bring their families out here while they’re shooting.

“They can commute home a lot easier with these direct flights,” she continued. “The problem is, it’s just on a Saturday, so if we can get those more frequent like we used to have, that would really be ideal.”

Film productions in New Mexico, which has earned the nickname of “Tamalewood” because of the success of the film industry, have been on the rise, and that’s especially true in Santa Fe County.

After the Santa Fe Film Office was founded in the summer of 2016, LaBar-Tapia said there were 23 productions in fiscal year 2017, 49 productions in fiscal year 2018 and 73 productions in fiscal year 2019, which ran from July 2018 to June 2019.

LaBar-Tapia said Santa Fe County is on pace to break that record this fiscal year.

“Every year, we’re on this uptick and the movie industry is this very word-of-mouth industry, so when productions come here and have a good experience, they come back, or they tell their counterparts at other studios or other people in the film industry about coming to Santa Fe,” she said.

Tourism Santa Fe Executive Director Randy Randall believes the return of the direct flight between Santa Fe and Los Angeles could be a step toward making Santa Fe the No. 1 small town in the country for filmmakers.

“We have a contingent of film people who have chosen Santa Fe to reside, but need to go to LA on a regular basis,” he said.

Randall said the flights will also provide a convenient option for Santa Feans and visitors alike.

And it could do wonders for Santa Fe’s economy.

Santa Fe Office of Economic Development Director Rich Brown said the flights could have a positive effect on industries besides film, such as outdoor recreation, arts, and science and technology.

Angelenos will also have easier access to art galleries, museums and Meow Wolf, for example.

The city is already investing in the regional airport to make it more convenient and pleasurable to fly out of Santa Fe. Plans are to expand the terminal from about 9,000 square feet to about 30,000 square feet. The city is also putting money into an expansion to the airport parking lot.

While people can still fly out of Albuquerque, travelling straight to Santa Fe will take a couple of hours off travel time. And that’s important to jet setting Hollywood types, LaBar-Tapia said.

“The more accessible we can be to L.A., it just helps. And if that means just bringing in this one flight for now, we’ll take it,” she said. “Hopefully, American will see the benefit and there will be butts in the seats, so to speak, and they’ll increase their flight schedule.”

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