Roswell Air Center
A dynamic airport in a state known for aviation
Flying high with impressive upgrades for 2024
Spanning over 5,000 acres, Roswell Air Center has a rich and deep history ranging from its background as a former U.S. Air Force base to its colorful connection to UFOs. The air center is owned by the city of Roswell and had nearly 300 onsite aircraft that participated in its storage program in 2023. Approximately 40 general aviation aircraft call Roswell Air Center home with three MROs, a paint shop, and more.
Once known as the Roswell Army Airfield during World War II and later as Walker Air Force Base, the military air base was once the largest of the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command. While it ceased its official military operations in 1967, the Roswell Air Center has evolved.
A big part of the air center’s history involves the U.S. Armed Forces. Today roughly 60 percent of its aircraft is associated with the military, says Deputy Director Jenna Lanfor. It hosts a full range of military aircraft and is a fuel stopping point for cross-country military flight operations. Various C130s fly to Roswell from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico and the U.S. Navy trains pilots onsite three months each year in T-6s. KC-135s regularly land in Roswell for training from Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington, Lanfor says.
The air center also hosts maintenance repair services, overhaul storage areas, and dismantling services, also known in the industry as aviation storage facilities and boneyard. These services are provided by an array of maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) partners.
Roswell Air Center hosts daily flights to and from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport with American Airlines. It previously offered commercial routes to and from Phoenix.
Facility upgrades and future investments
The City of Roswell is investing in new infrastructure, facilities, and technology at the Roswell Air Center. An additional taxiway is being designed that will serve as a turnaround for fire-fighting planes from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The new taxiway will allow tanker aircraft to efficiently fuel planes and load them with slurry to fight forest fires.
According to Airport Director Jennifer Griego, airfield lighting upgrades are forthcoming, and multiple aprons, defined as a designated area where aircraft are parked, unloaded, loaded, refueled, and boarded, are being renovated. More upgrades are coming as well.
The air center is also charged with creating commercial developments that support the city and surrounding community. Discussions with a large, globally recognized company have begun as well for new development opportunities on the air center’s property. Recent infrastructure upgrades include a water line extension that is being funded by a $5 million state capital outlay opportunity.
Such efforts are included in the air center’s five-year strategic plan, which will be finalized in 2024, Griego says. She and Lanfor have already met with community and industry stakeholders for input on the five-year plan. A SWOT analysis, representing a deep dive into the air center’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is forthcoming, which will help to define key components of the plan.
“We’ll be in the planning stages for a bit yet and I do expect there will be some changes,” says Griego. “We will be flexible based on the feedback we receive. The goal of air center leadership is to promote and uncover landside development opportunities while generating jobs for the city of Roswell.
Dealing with the pilot shortage and other challenges
It’s no secret that the U.S. has experienced a pilot shortage for an extended period. A September 27, 2023, article in Travel Weekly cited statistics indicating that the national pilot shortage has moderated over the past year, partly from the reduction in regional carrier routes. However, this shortage is still a challenge, particularly in smaller U.S. markets.
Roswell Air Center is one of those markets, and in the past, has been utilized for pilot training to help avoid such labor issues. Air center leaders engaged in past discussions with nearby Eastern New Mexico State University Roswell to formulate plans for a flight school, but a lack of student interest has temporarily shelved that idea, says Griego. Being located in an underserved area doesn’t help either. The good news is that the infrastructure is there – the Roswell Air Center offers a full-service air traffic control center which is an asset for a flight school, ideal weather conditions for a high number of flight training days each year, and long runways for student pilots to feel comfortable learning on.
“We have a lot of sun and little inclement weather,” Lanfor says. “What (students) would get in their training is significant crosswind and (sunlight) training.”
A new exposure opportunity could be in the air center’s future
Roswell Air Center is a finalist to take over hosting duties of the National Championship Air Races, known more traditionally as the Reno Air Races. The organization hosts a nationally renowned air racing and air show event that celebrates the industry and is open to the public. According to Griego, the event is held each September for up to 10 days and has a projected local economic impact of $100 million.
The air races are in search of a new home because the Reno- Stead International Airport has chosen to expand development within the race course area resulting in the need for the races to find a new host. The air races draw hundreds of aircraft, their pilots, and crews. It has averaged 100,000 spectators over the last decade, according to the event’s website. The National Championship Air Races features seven racing classes with a large display of static aircraft and military and civil flight demonstrations.
Roswell Air Center is considered an option for hosting this national event because of its military history, existing infrastructure, and location. While Griego is unsure if the air center will be rewarded with the show, being considered is an encouraging sign for the air center’s brand and future.
Says Griego, “It may be extra work for our team but would be huge for the city.” She admits the added exposure will be beneficial to the air center’s future growth. “It would be a pretty big deal.”
Partnerships with invaluable FBOs
Griego began working at the Roswell Air Center 40 years ago, working her way up until becoming director and then retiring in 2016. Six years later the city of Roswell convinced her to come back for a two-year term to help restore a higher quality of service and improve relationships with fixed base operators (FBO), tenants, and other valuable partners.
At the Roswell Air Center, the FBO fuels visiting aircraft and provides other limited services. These partners have access to their facility onsite, allowing them to provide ground support for commercial air service, The FBO provides tie down parking and hangar usage for aircraft. Regularly hosting U.S. Navy training aircraft
One of the challenges for Griego and Lanfor is to maintain the number of airplane mechanics on staff necessary to provide adequate service to all aircraft. In this era of common labor shortages, a lack of mechanics is as much of a concern as the pilot shortage.
A notable partnership that has thrived is with Sceye, a manufacturer of high-altitude platform systems. In October 2022, the manufacturer completed its “Sceye Infinity” mission to the stratosphere, successfully demonstrating a novel launch method and vertical ascent after launching from the air center. That flight included a telecommunications payload that connected to mobile devices on the ground, paving the way for broadband connectivity for populations in rural areas.
Sceye also can collect important system performance and flying quality data during the R&D flight that will help build the next iteration of HAPS.
Working toward a brighter future
Griego is hopeful that after her term ends Lanfor hopes to be considered to become the new air center director. It would be a smooth transition given how closely the two leaders have worked together over the last couple of years, and their collective experience in the industry.
Griego is looking forward to helping the air center be in a “better place than where it was in 2022,” in her last few months, which includes further strengthening relationships with tenants and partners. “I love aviation and the noise and everything about (the air center),” she says.
Lanfor spent several years as a general contractor and project manager in the industry before joining the air center. She recently completed her Bachelor’s degree in Aviation Science.
“I (enjoy) being around aircraft,” she says. “It’s a great group of people to work with here in Roswell.”
AT A GLANCE
Roswell Air Center
What: One of the largest centers for the commercial aviation industries of the Southwest with daily flights to and from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. It has a long history of hosting military aircraft dating back to its days as an Air Force base.
Where: Roswell, N.M.
Dean Baldwin Painting, LP – https://www.deanbaldwinpainting.com/
Dean Baldwin Painting LP is a proud provider of large aircraft painting services, with three full-service facilities in the United States. Founded nearly six decades ago, Dean Baldwin Painting has grown to be one of the most respected names in aircraft painting. The over 300 employees are well trained in the use of the most current technologies and processes, insuring the most favorable and consistent paint services possible. Dean Baldwin Painting provides services to nearly all the major and regional airlines in North America and has been a subcontractor to the U.S. government.
The 165,000 ft2 painting facility in Roswell, New Mexico is one of three Dean Baldwin facilities and was the first Dean Baldwin full service location, acquired and opened in 1999. Skywest Airlines was the first airline customer at that new location and to this day, Skywest remains an important customer in Roswell, NM. The Roswell facility processes 120-150 aircraft each year, serving virtually all sectors of the aviation industry, including commercial, military, and VIP corporate aircraft customers. In addition to Roswell, Dean Baldwin Painting LP has facilities in Peru, Indiana and Macon, Georgia. The Georgia location opened in 2021, was newly built from the ground up. Combined, the company has over 452,000 ft2 , 14 full service strip and paint bays capable of servicing aircraft from regional size to the very large B747 and A330 aircraft. In addition to aircraft exterior strip and painting, Dean Baldwin Painting capabilities include aircraft weigh, flight control balance and minor maintenance.
Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corporation – https://www.chavescounty.net/
Roswell has an enduring heritage in aerospace and aviation. The Roswell Air Center (RAC) is the site of the former Walker US Air Force Base, and today is home to 3 MROs, major airlines, and several manufacturing activities. With high altitude, 310 days of sunshine per year, and daily commercial flights to Dallas-Fort Worth, come find out what opportunities Roswell might have for you!