LA County to support SF airport as regional hub

-A A +A

County council approves $50,000 go toward helping promote tourism, economic development in region

By Tris DeRoma

The Los Alamos County Council approved to put $50,000 of economic development funds toward helping the northern New Mexico Air Alliance promote tourism and economic development in the region.

The funds would help promote awareness of the Santa Fe Municipal Airport, a 45-minute car ride from Los Alamos County. In exchange, the alliance would promote Los Alamos County and its attractions in its promotional efforts.

“The initiative behind it is to grow the number of flights and the pricing of flights out of the Santa Fe Municipal Airport,” Los Alamos County Economic Development Director Joan Ahlers said.

In the past, Los Alamos County had attempted to lure traffic to Los Alamos through the Los Alamos Airport, but the attempts failed, even though county council opted to subsidize the airlines that would make stops in Los Alamos County whenever they had flights coming in and out of the airport.

New Mexico Airlines attempted to use the airport for 21 months between April 2013 and June 2015. Shortly after, In November 2015, Boutique Airlines put Los Alamos on its route but that too came to end when the president of the airline, Shawn Simpson, terminated the contract with Los Alamos Airport in April 2016. Up until that date, Los Alamos County had been subsidizing the airline for about $550,000 a year.

Many thought the council made the right decision Tuesday.

“With the prospects of passenger service in and out of Los Alamos not being realistic right now, the next best option for us on a number of levels is to promote the use and the expansion of the Santa Fe Municipal Airport,” Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation Executive Director Patrick Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the move made sense from a tourism and a business perspective. Having an accessible airport within a reasonable distance is an important factor of making those vital sectors to the regional economy successful, he said.

“We’ve had local companies here tell us that a two-hour drive to Albuquerque is really difficult for them in terms of doing business,” Sullivan said.

Helping the Santa Fe Municipal Airport will also help Los Alamos grow, he said.

“If the Santa Fe Municipal Airport grows, and there’s more flights in and out of there and the price of the flights come down, I don’t see anything but benefits to Los Alamos because of that,” Sullivan said.

The Santa Fe Municipal Airport has nine flights daily to three airports, which are Denver International Airport, Dallas International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

The council voted 4-2 to approve the funding.

The two members who voted against were councilors James Chrobocinski and Rick Reiss.

Chrobocinski said he didn’t like the fact that the Santa Fe City Council recently voted for a resolution calling for the Los Alamos National Laboratory to halt its plutonium pit manufacturing program over environmental and safety concerns.

“I got a real problem with the way their city council recently voted to oppose having pit production done up here at the lab,” Chrobocinski said. “If we lost that pit production, it would be a huge hit to our local economy. On the one hand, they were doing things that were really going to hurt our economy and other hand they were asking us for money, so I voted no.”

Reiss viewed it as a one-sided deal.

“It would be nice if we got some support also,” Reiss said. “It was just a point. It passed, and I’m fine with that. I was bringing attention to the fact that we do an awful lot to support the region, but we don’t always get something back.”