Aztec Municipal Airport
flying into 2023 with operational upgrades on the horizon
Welcoming a host of private and corporate flights into the area, Aztec Municipal Airport serves as the gateway to an area blessed with natural beauty
There is no doubt that aviation traffic is increasing both on the commercial side and for private flights coming in and out of the nation’s regional airports. The key to capturing the flight potential is for regional airports to focus on necessary infrastructure projects and ensure that their operational capabilities are second to none.
For Aztec Municipal Airport, a public-use airport in San Juan County, New Mexico, keeping on top of needed upgrades is at the top of its to-do list. Situated about two miles south of the city of Aztec and approximately 18 miles northeast of the town of Farmington, Aztec Municipal Airport serves as the gateway to an area steeped in natural beauty and historical significance.
The airport covers an area of 195 acres and has one runway, designated as 3/21, with a length of 5,101 feet. Aztec Municipal Airport’s primary use is general aviation. Most of its traffic consists of local private and corporate planes while serving as a base for several aviation-related businesses, including aircraft maintenance, repair, and refueling services.
Aztec Municipal Airport has a long history, dating back to the early days of aviation in New Mexico. Over the years, it has undergone numerous improvements and upgrades, including adding a new terminal building and constructing a modern automated weather reporting system.
Business View Magazine recently spoke to Wallace Begay, Municipal Airport Manager, and Jeff Blackburn, City Manager, to discuss the airport’s role in the local community, including its economic benefits and position as a critical transportation link.
Business View Magazine: Let’s start by discussing the general area Aztec Municipal Airport serves. Could you tell us what the area offers and its connection with the airport as the gateway to the region?
Aztecs have much to offer. To start, we are near Navajo Lake, one of the larger lakes in New Mexico, and a recreational hub for boating and fishing. We are also close to the San Juan Mountains with Durango, a commercial and visitor hub and home of the Durango Silverton train, within 40 miles of us.
Next, we have Purgatory Ski Resort, one of southern Colorado’s biggest ski resorts, within about an hour and a half of the airport. Off to the northwest, we have the Utah Badlands with Monument Valley and other attractions within 2 to 3 hours.
Aztec is centrally located between Phoenix and Denver, about 9 hours to each. At the same time, our capital, Santa Fe, is about 3 hours, and Albuquerque is about two and a half hours, besides neighboring cities like Farmington, Bloomfield, and Shiprock, one of the gateway cities to the Navajo Nation.
Farmington Lake, a reservoir, swimming, and camping area, is about five miles from Aztec besides several rivers that converge here, including the San Juan and Animas Rivers.
From a geographical perspective, we have in town the Aztec ruins. This national heritage site is part of the Pueblo system running from Chaco Canyon to Mesa Verde, Colorado. These are significant archaeological sites with tremendous tourism and educational value
Aside from the attractions mentioned, Aztec has access to almost all kinds of outdoor, cultural, and shopping activities within a short distance.
Business View Magazine: Let’s talk specifically about the airport grounds. Could you give us an overview of the airport facilities?
Aztec Regional is a general aviation airport, meaning most pilots flying in are weekend pilots and folks traveling cross country. Because of this, no businesses are established within the airport grounds as you’d have in a Commercial Air Transport (CAT) airport.
The airport is set on a hill within an area having a latitude of 5654, making it a high-altitude landing area. The facility has two runways, although one is currently closed as we are considering building another north-south runway.
The Aztec municipality owns Aztec airport, does not charge any landing or tie-down fees, and provides a courtesy car, making it a popular stopover for many pilots. Some pilots fly in to see the Aztec ruins, while others will come in on transit, spend one or two days in town and carry on.
Business View Magazine: Are any operational upgrades in the works?
We are awarded a federal aviation grant to upgrade the airport, and the main project we are currently undertaking is the addition of LED lighting on the runway edge. We now have high-intensity retro reflectors that work great, but the LED will give the runway a great touch and feel for those flying in at night.
Once complete, pilots can radio into the tower and automatically have the lights and LEDs go on and light up the runway light.
Besides this, we are also looking at building a few more hangars because we currently have a limited number, and they are all filled. Once we get a patent for additional land, we can do that and possibly build the north-south runway already in our airport layout plan. Once complete, this runway will facilitate taxiways parallel to the runway.
I’d like to add that we recently renovated the entire pilots’ lounge, putting in some fantastic upgrades. It might be small, but it is spotless and inviting.
Business View Magazine: Speaking of runways, what have you traditionally done to keep small animals off the runway, especially at the higher elevation the airport occupies?
The only small animals we have here are prairie dogs. Fortunately, we don’t see them much because the coyotes hunt them down. We’ve not seen any larger animals like deer up here, although we have fencing just in case.
Business View Magazine: How about parking? What is the parking situation for people coming into the airport?
We have some public parking on the outside of the perimeter fencing, where people that don’t have access to the airport can park. Most of the time, pilots pull their planes out, park their vehicles inside their hangar, and then leave.
In other cases, the landing pilots might pick someone to take them for treatment, so they will land, drive down to the hospital, pick up the individual, and fly out.
These kinds of instances make up what happens at the airport throughout the year, so there is no great need for lots of dedicated parking.
Business View Magazine: Could you mention any key suppliers, vendors, contractors, partnerships, or any entity that you feel is vital to the day-to-day operations of the airport?
One of the key providers that help us manage the airport is our consultant, Bohannan Huston, who ensures the airport complies with all aviation requirements. Another essential vendor for the airport is Aviation Pros, which supplies the airport with various items like windsocks.
Our electrical department is also crucial to the airport’s operations, as they are responsible for ensuring all lights work, including the beacon light, bulbs, and other lighting fixtures.
We also work closely with San Juan Regional Medical Center, which uses the airport to pick up and drop off patients requiring treatment in Albuquerque or elsewhere. Besides the support we provide for other aviation use cases in the area, we have a great partnership with them.
We run a volunteer fire department, which has put out one or two fires in the recent past. In general, we don’t keep any workforce in the airport, with most coming up here on a need-only basis.
Another important partner is Tribute Aviation out of Phoenix, Arizona, which supplies the airport with jet fuel.
Business View Magazine: How would you characterize the relationship between the city of Aztec and the airport?
The airport is a gateway to our local recreational attractions. Most tourists use it to connect with our local outdoor recreation, which feeds into our economy. If you want to bring your aircraft in, you’ll find a friendly and budget-friendly place waiting.
To further cement this appeal, the city has just finished phase one of a $3.1 million infrastructure investment to attract developers into the city. In Aztec, we are working on a $500,000 grant to help create a commercial outdoor recreation opportunity for investors.
Other investments the city is making are the Ancient Trail subdivision, road improvements, downtown improvements, and park maintenance of our beautiful parks.
Anyone with a career in the area, retired, working from home, or wants to live in a safe community with great schools will find everything they need in Aztec.
We may be a small town on the grow, but we want to be known as a small, safe community where you can live your best life and enjoy it to the fullest.
AT A GLANCE
Aztec Municipal Airport
What: Regional airport serving mainly local private and corporate flights
Where: San Juan County, New Mexico