Jul 07, 2023
New manager sees upward trajectory for Santa Fe Regional Airport
Construction crews work on the first phase of the airport terminal expansion at the Santa Fe Regional Airport last week. The full expansion will eventually add five gates, a baggage claim area, a bar
Construction crews work on the first phase of the airport terminal expansion at the Santa Fe Regional Airport last week. The full expansion will eventually add five gates, a baggage claim area, a bar and a restaurant.
“I love the mountain view,” James Harris said Thursday while looking out over the runway of the Santa Fe Regional Airport. “It reminds me of Afghanistan.”
Harris, who spent eight years in the Marine Corps, took the helm as airport manager in November after heading the Clovis Regional Airport in Eastern New Mexico. His goals for Santa Fe’s airport carry an air of military precision.
While many Santa Feans are used to driving the hour to catch flights out of the much larger Albuquerque International Sunport, Harris said in the past few years Santa Fe’s airport “has turned a corner” and more residents are viewing it as a convenient local option for air travel.
The airport had one of the largest increases in passenger traffic nationwide as flights bounced back post-pandemic, going from 94,906 travelers in 2021 to 123,452 in 2022.
This year, it’s on track to see almost 200,000, he said.
Harris said he hopes passenger traffic will increase and the airport will be able to attract a third airline after the completion of the first phase of its terminal expansion project, which is slated for December. Currently only United Airlines and American Airlines fly out of the airport.
The phased expansion eventually will add five gates, a baggage claim area and a bar and restaurant to the city-owned facility. The baggage claim is already up and running, though Harris said he’s in the process of getting a quote to install a conveyor belt instead of the current rollers.
“We’re better than that,” he said.
Airport manager James Harris shows the new baggage claim area of the Santa Fe Regional Airport, which he hopes to eventually replace with a conveyor-belt system. “We’re better than that,” Harris said of the current roller system.
The Jet Center at Santa Fe, which is privately owned and operated separately from the airport, is expanding as well. The City Council approved an agreement earlier this month to extend the center’s lease at the airport through 2060 and increase its size to build more hangars.
On Monday, a new flight tracking program called Virtower will be coming online. The software uses Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast to track every aircraft that comes in and out of a given airport.
Harris said the program originally was used by airports that didn’t have their own air traffic control towers but has become more popular recently with those that do because it can be used to track overnight flights as well, when towers are closed. He brought it to the Clovis airport with great success.
“It changed the airport so much,” he said. “It was a huge benefit knowing how much traffic we’re getting.”
The Federal Aviation Authority uses flight data to allocate money to airports, and Harris said the additional flights Virtower was helping the Clovis airport pick up netted an additional $1 million in federal funding.
He hopes a similar situation will play out in Santa Fe.
Virtower will cost the airport $9,000 the first year, which includes installation costs, and $6,000 per year after that.
The airport is growing in other ways as well. It’s seeking approval from the city to hire five more full-time employees to its staff, which currently consists of 11 people.
“The airport has been operating at an absolute minimum staff number,” said Harris, who said adding more employees will be “a big improvement.”
A budget adjustment resolution is scheduled to go before City Council for final approval Wednesday. It would authorize spending of $900,000 to hire a security coordinator, operations officer, project manager, maintenance worker and heavy equipment mechanic and to implement security upgrades to comply with Transportation Safety Administration requirements.
“A lot of people don’t realize that we fall in the same category as the Dallas-Forth Worth and Denver airports, and our security requirements are the same,” Harris said. “You just get through it faster because we don’t have so many people.”
Passengers navigate through construction at entrance to the Santa Fe Regional Airport last week. New airport operations manager Allan Mantle, who started last Monday, said the work has created inconveniences but he is looking forward to the payoff. “I live by an expression, ‘Everything gets worse before it gets better,’ “ he said. “It will get better; it just takes time.”
The airport has two new sources of revenue this fiscal year after signing land leases with the police department and the wastewater management division, which uses 18 acres in the northern section of the airport’s property to treat sanitary sewage. The money eventually will be used to pay for the new employees and security upgrades, including the installation of 14 cameras, as well as to hire three part-time shuttle drivers.
The airport also recently received $5.3 million from the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s aviation division for infrastructure and runway improvements
Construction on the first phase of the terminal expansion is about 75% finished, Harris said. A redevelopment of the airport’s parking lot that will up capacity to more than 700 spots, and add solar panels and EV charging stations, is slated for completion in December after running into delays during construction.
On top of the current roster of eight daily departures and arrivals, American Airlines in October will be adding a Saturday flight to Austin, Harris said.
Long-term plans include building a new air traffic control tower with FAA funds that would have an elevator and better visibility, and creating a longer runway that would give the airport the ability to bring in larger aircraft. The latter would probably take about five years from start to finish, Harris estimated.
A longer runway would also help with safety because it gives pilots a longer runtime when taking off, noted airport operations manager Allan Mantle, whose first day on the job was Aug. 21.
Mantle comes from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., but said despite the smaller size, there’s a lot going on at Santa Fe’s facility.
“The airport is going through a lot of changes right now,” he said.
He said construction has created inconveniences but looks toward the day when it’s done. Then, he said, the airport will be better for customers and employees.
“I live by an expression, ‘Everything gets worse before it gets better,’ ” he said. “It will get better; it just takes time.”
• Santa Fe Regional Airport is launching a new flight tracking system that will allow it to record more flights than are tracked with its air traffic control tower, which will hopefully allow it to qualify for more FAA funding.
• Construction is underway on expansion of the airport’s terminal and parking lot, which are both slated for a December finish after some delays when crews ran into water and sewer lines while digging in the lot.
• Airport Manager James Harris has ambitious goals for the airport, which he said is seeing increased traffic post-pandemic and is on track for nearly 200,000 passengers this year. More people in the city are starting to see the airport as an option as compared to the Albuquerque International Sunport, he said.
Sorry, there are no recent results for popular videos.