Santa Fe expanding airport terminal, parking
March 29, 2022
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  • Commercial air traffic has steadily increased at the Santa Fe Regional Airport since American Eagle’s inaugural flights to and from Dallas launched in June 2009.

    A decade later, the airport reported an all-time annual high of more than 280,000 passengers arriving and departing on American Eagle Flights to and from Dallas and Phoenix, and United Express flights between Santa Fe and Denver.

    But the airport terminal, built in 1957, has not grown.

    The city is now moving forward with a long-awaited expansion that will increase the terminal space to about 18,500 square feet from 11,000 and nearly triple the available parking.

    Airport Director Mark Baca anticipates the project, set for completion in January, will lead to more commercial flights and perhaps more airlines.

    But, he added, “We’re not in talks with the airlines now.”

    “We are getting to where we are supposed to be” when it comes to handling current passenger counts, Baca said in an interview at the site Tuesday, when city officials gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony to acknowledge the start of construction. “We never anticipated the amount of growth we are going to see.”

    The city started construction Feb. 25 on expanding the parking lot to more than 700 spaces — most dedicated to long-term parking — from 250. The work will improve traffic circulation and add bicycle and pedestrian facilities and a cellphone waiting lane, which has become common at airports.

    The expansion to the north end of the airport terminal will add a third gate for boarding and arrivals and provide more seating in the secure area for passengers waiting for all three gates.

    The facility also will undergo a remodel, replacing counters, enlarging the Transportation Security Administration screening area, adding restrooms, reconfiguring airline offices, and replacing the concession facilities and entrances.

    The project was expected to cost about $13.5 million, but the only bid, from Bradbury Stamm Construction, came in at $21.5 million.

    The city has received $10.5 million from the New Mexico Legislature to help fund the project.

    “This $21.5 million investment will improve the customer experience — and it’s only the first phase,” Mayor Alan Webber said in a statement. “After this, we’ll go for another $20 million investment.”

    A second expansion to the south end of the terminal eventually will add 13,000 square feet and include a new TSA screening area, more passenger seating and a restaurant, Baca said.

    City Councilor Chris Rivera, chairman of the Airport Advisory Board, lauded the airport project in a statement.

    “The changes we’re making to the parking lots and roads will improve the flow of traffic,” he said. “We’ll retain the quaintness of the terminal while adding seating capacity. Adding a gate creates the potential for airlines to add routes.”

    Before regional jets touched down here, only about 25,000 passengers boarded flights each year at what was then called the Santa Fe Municipal Airport. In 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, about 283,000 passengers passed through.

    The number dropped in 2020 as air travel collapsed amid the pandemic, but departures recovered to about 130,000 last year, Baca said.

    The 1957 terminal was renovated in 1988 and then saw its first big change in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks prompted sweeping overhauls of air traffic security. The city “shoehorned” security screening equipment into the terminal, Baca said. The facility’s interior was spruced up in 2004, he added, and in 2016, the screening area capacity was expanded to 50 passengers from 30.

    Commercial flights typically carry about 75 passengers, Baca said in a previous interview, causing a bottleneck at security checkpoints.

    “The main thing,” he said Tuesday, “is we are going to remodel the current building and provide the services needed for the traveling public.”