By Mike Linn
City officials are thinking about subsidizing the Portales Municipal Airport — again.
City officials are contemplating funding the city-owned airport roughly $160,000 to make up for deficits last fiscal year and to match state and federal grants for various improvements.
“They’re bringing some money in, but not enough to pay expenses, salaries and our share of grants and that kind of stuff,” Co-city manager Tom Howell said.
The airport’s revenue last fiscal year was $384,000.
City officials noted that non-commercial (or general aviation) airports — regardless of location — have a difficult time bringing in funds.
“Some of the larger airports, Roswell, Albuquerque, maybe Santa Fe, may be what we consider to be self-sufficient,” Robert Meeks, Portales Airport Manager, said. “But I don’t know of a general aviation facility anywhere that is.”
Then why have a local airport?
City officials say it’s a step towards attracting larger businesses to the area.
“It’s an economic development tool…” Meeks said. “If you’re talking larger industries — lets say the ethanol plant or Dairy Concepts — the out-of-town business persons want to be close enough to a facility that they don’t waste their time driving to come into Portales and take care of business.”
“Time is money to those guys. They want to spend their time working, not traveling.”
Meeks noted that a goal for the Portales airport is to break even each year, a goal he almost achieved prior to 9/11.
After the attack two years ago, insurance rates for pilots grew extremely high, costing the airport more money and discouraging private and commercial air travel.
Since 9/11 the airport’s revenues have been subpar, but Meeks noted he believes that is changing.
“It’s gradually starting to pick back up,” he said. “We’ve been seeing it, there’s more people actually flying the airlines, there’s more charter work going on, and a little bit more flight instruction.”
The Portales airport makes most of its money through fuel sales and selling hanger space, and Meeks said he is working on a contract to supply the U. S. Army with such services for Army helicopters. Army officials based in Albuquerque could be using the Melrose Bombing Range for target practice in the near future, Meeks noted.