ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With the novel coronavirus wreaking havoc on commercial air travel, the Roswell International Air Center is looking to become a destination for airlines to park their largest planes.
The air center, in conjunction with the Roswell mayor’s office, sent out a letter encouraging airlines and other aviation companies to consider this site as a destination during the period of uncertainty. Mark Bleth, deputy director of the air center, said the facility’s uniquely large runways, abundance of concrete storage space, and semi-arid climate makes it an ideal fit for companies to park large jets like the Airbus A380 until demand for flights reverts to pre-virus levels.
Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh added that keeping the aircraft in working order would require additional employees, which he said could help diversify the economy of the oil and gas-dependant region.
“If we can promote this and grow this, it gives us an additional area of commercial activity.” Kintigh said.
The coronavirus outbreak has hampered the commercial aviation industry, amid travel bans and fewer people flying. Bleth said the lack of demand has been particularly hard for airlines using A380s, the largest commercial aircraft in operation with between 470 and 700 seats.
Bleth added that he’s heard reports of the planes flying at around 35% capacity. “You’re just bleeding cash if you’re running at 35%,” he said.
Airbus announced last year that it would cease production of the A380 by 2021, but Bleth said the virus outbreak has airlines like Lufthansa and Emirates looking to ground some or all of their planes before then.
Air center director Scott Stark said Roswell has key advantages over competing facilities, with its semi-arid climate that helps prevent corrosion, and an abundance of concrete and asphalt where other air centers have to house the planes on dirt.
Perhaps most importantly, the air center’s massive runways, a holdover from its history as an airfield during World War II, give it the ability to handle large aircraft.
Roswell has a history of housing aircraft near their end of their useful lives. The city is home to a handful of companies that specialize in recycling and selling airplane components. One such company, General Airframe Support, operates in both Roswell and Marana, Arizona, but president Isaac Sheets said the New Mexico airport’s amenities give it a leg up.
“There’s not a better place to park your plane than Roswell,” Sheets said.
Stark said the airport has enough space to house around 20 A380 planes comfortably, along with other, smaller planes. To keep the planes in good working order, companies will have to contract with local companies or bring employees to Roswell. Kintigh said he’d like to see the aviation industry, emerge as a viable alternative during lean times on the oil patch.
“To me, this is critical that we understand this not just as a Roswell asset, but as a New Mexico asset,” Kintigh said.