SANTA FE — New Mexico’s state airplane fleet has shrunk over the last decade, after former Gov. Susana Martinez sold several planes during her tenure as part of an attempt to trim what she described as government waste.
But a new state airplane could be in the works under a proposed $9 million capital outlay appropriation that’s included in a massive $1.2 billion public works package. The package passed the Senate via a 27-13 vote on Wednesday without the airplane earmark being mentioned and heads to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for final approval.
The Lujan Grisham administration has touted the airplane purchase as a way to improve transportation options for medical providers and students at the state’s School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Alamogordo.
It could also be used by Cabinet secretaries and other public officials in the sprawling and largely rural state — the fifth-largest in the nation.
The state previously had four aircraft — along with an executive jet purchased in 2005 by then-Gov. Bill Richardson — but is currently down to just one, a six-passenger, turboprop Beechcraft King Air C90.
That plane is out of service for about three months per year for inspection and maintenance, according to a state General Services Department spokesman.
As result, the state has struggled to provide regular transportation for medical providers to help children and adults under age 21 who have special health care needs — part of a Children’s Medical Services program in the Department of Health.
“Having a single aircraft has led to frequent scheduling conflicts, which, for example has required CMS physicians to provide telehealth instead of in-person services,” General Services Department spokesman Rod Crawley told the Journal.
Specifically, the state General Services Department provides about 50 airplane trips per year for medical providers with the Children’s Medical Services program, he said.
It also provides about 75 trips per year for students with lengthy commutes to the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Alamogordo — including students living in Farmington, Santa Fe and Las Vegas.
That steady travel burden has led to elevated costs for fuel and maintenance, and the Lujan Grisham administration is seeking a separate $1.2 million appropriation to replace both of the plane’s engines.
Doing that could extend the plane’s lifespan by an estimated eight years, Crawley said.
He also said the proposed new state plane would be the same type of aircraft as the current plane.