ROSWELL, N.M. – The downturn in the commercial air travel industry has turned into a boon for a former military base in New Mexico.
The Roswell International Air Center has emerged as a major storage facility for planes that have been grounded by airlines due to age and lack of demand. The air center was storing about 160 aircraft before March. As of last week, another 309 planes had arrived from carriers including American Airlines, United Airlines and Frontier Airlines.
There are more grounded planes in Roswell now than at any point during the modern history of the former base, surpassing even the number of aircraft stored there in the days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
“This is a surge that was unprecedented,” said air center deputy director Mark Bleth.
Some of the grounded planes will be re-integrated into commercial fleets once demand for air travel picks up. Bleth said older planes will either be scrapped or reconfigured and resold for other uses.
To keep up with demand, Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh said airlines and independent maintenance and repair companies have hired or brought in around 175 employees.
Bleth said Roswell’s dry climate and the air center’s abundant asphalt has long made it a good fit for airlines looking for places to ground planes. In March, the air center, in conjunction with the mayor’s office, sent out a letter encouraging the aviation industry to consider Roswell as a location to store planes amid the coronavirus pandemic, when many stayed home to curb the spread of the pandemic.
Bleth said the air center received as many as 20 planes per day during the busiest parts of March and April, as the industry adjusted to the new conditions.