This story was updated at 12:20 p.m. July 5 to reflect the city’s response.
LAS CRUCES – The selection of a company to provide flights from Las Cruces to cities such as Santa Fe and Albuquerque has hit a snag, likely delaying the resumption of commercial passenger service at the city’s airport for a few months.
The city has been approved for $3.5 million in state grant funding to establish intrastate commercial passenger service at Las Cruces International Airport. In December, the city council approved a resolution authorizing the city to seek the funding through the New Mexico Rural Air Service Enhancement Grant Program, which must include an additional 10 percent in matching city funds.
Airport Administrator Andy Hume said that while the city had selected an intrastate flight provider through a procurement process, a bidder who wasn’t selected appealed the decision. During the appeal process, Hume said it was decided it was in the “airport’s best interest” to cancel the bid and restart the request for proposal process.
“There were some really important questions that were raised,” Hume said, leading the city to ask bidders to list more specifications in the reissued RFP, he said. The new RFP will ask potential providers to note whether their planes have pressurized cabins and how much weight in cargo or luggage their planes can hold.
Additionally, the new selection process will factor in the allowance for airplanes that can carry up to 30 passengers, Hume said, up from the previous maximum of nine — a change to state law made during the 2022 legislative session. Altogether, Hume said the city will evaluate a provider’s specifications based on the city’s desire to “shift” service in response to demand.
“Based on the results of the appeal, it was decided that yes, we could go forward with the provider that we had selected at that time,” Hume said. “But based on some of the questions that were raised by the appeal, mostly dealing with the specifications of aircraft, it was determined that it would be better to go forward with a more complete review of our aircraft specifications through the RFP process.”
Hume said the new RFP eliminates a previous “gray area” and provides a “cleaner” procurement process.
The new RFP will also ask for potential providers to submit a plan for how their operation will be financially sustainable in subsequent years if state grant funding runs out or is reduced.
“The bottom line is, we want this to be a long-lasting passenger air service product that is a quality product for our residents and our visitors,” Hume said. “We just don’t want a one-and-done type of situation.”
It’s unclear if the new RFP has been issued yet. The previously selected provider and the bidder who appealed are also unknown, and a city spokesperson said the city couldn’t immediately answer questions as some staff are out of the office.
New Mexico Department of Transportation-Aviation Division Manager Dan Moran said the city’s request for up to $3.5 million in state grant funding, on a reimbursable basis, has been approved. Whether the city receives the full amount will be based on the level of service at the airport. If service is higher than anticipated, for instance, the city’s chosen provider could require less subsidization and would require less grant funding, Moran said.
Las Cruces’ airport hasn’t had commercial passenger service since 2005. Between the late 1940s and 2005, 11 airlines provided commercial passenger service there. The city has been investing in improvements to the airport’s facilities and infrastructure as it prepares to resume commercial passenger service.
The city previously estimated intrastate flights could begin as soon as the middle of 2022. Despite the cancelation of the RFP, Hume said the delay will likely amount to a few months instead of an “extended delay.” He said the city is still working to launch intrastate service before the end of the calendar year.
Moran said the city won’t qualify for reimbursement for service using the new maximum passenger count before the new rules go into effect, which Moran estimated is likely to happen by October.
Additional facilities and infrastructure improvements must happen before the airport resumes interstate commercial passenger flights, along with a necessary upgrade in the airport’s classification. The city had hoped to fund $37.5 million in airport improvements using state capital outlay funding secured during the 2022 session and get interstate service launched by late 2022.
However the state approved only $1.1 million in capital outlay funding, delaying necessary improvements for interstate service as the city looks for other sources of funding. The city has sought almost $12 million in federal funding to construct a multi-use terminal at the airport.
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