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"New Mexico airport facing serious growing pains"
- From: "Stephen Irwin" <stepheni@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005 11:53:04 -0500
Tuesday, July 5, 2005
New Mexico airport facing serious growing pains
The Associated Press
SANTA TERESA, N.M. (AP) - Sightseeing motorists driving onto taxiways and
near misses between aircraft and vehicles are just some of the growing pains
at the Santa Teresa Airport.
The Dona Ana County airport's tenants say the situation is unsafe and
criticize the county, which owns the airport, and airport manager Vernon
Wilson for not fixing the problems.
At issue is public access for motorists to a taxiway, lack of fencing around
the airport perimeter and a number of other operational and management
To make matters worse, four of the five members of the county's Airport
Advisory Board have resigned in recent months, with some saying the county
does not listen to their recommendations.
Joe Maxsom, a corporate pilot for Hunt Building of El Paso, who flies out of
the airport, says he recently helped avoid a collision between a
tractor-trailer being used in an airport construction project and a small
The trailer was moving down the taxiway as the Piper was approaching it.
"Essentially, I had to jump out in front of the truck, waving my arms, and
get him to stop," Maxsom said.
He also said he sees motorists wander on to airport property to look at the
planes several times a week.
Wilson agreed that there is a problem with vehicle access at the airport,
but the county is limited in how to fix it.
"It would be a real tragedy for a guy in a Volkswagen to run into a $14
million jet," he said. "We haven't had an accident. But we've had some
The problem is caused in large part by a taxiway that connects to the
airport's main entrance road. A gate at the taxiway is closed only at night
because airport tenants and students need access during the day, Wilson
But that means the public can drive into the area, failing to notice the
warning signs or simply ignoring them.
The airport has been growing lately. About 100 planes are based at the
airport, nearly double the number of a decade ago and a project is under way
to lengthen the airport's runway to make it possible for DC-10s to land.
Wilson says the plans call for a redesigned entrance to the airport and a
new road for tenants to access hangars so they can avoid using the taxiway.
After the work is completed in 2007 or 2008, Wilson said the taxiway will be
used only by aircraft.
A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said the agency has had
no recent safety concerns with the airport.
But 40 tenants signed a petition asking Dona Ana County to remove Wilson
from his job, saying his qualifications are better suited to some other
county department. Tenants also say Wilson has failed to provide adequate
Wilson, a longtime pilot and flight instructor, had never managed an airport
before coming to Santa Teresa Airport two years ago.
He counters that tenants' complaints about him have arisen because he has
been tough on collecting rents owed the county and on enforcing safety
He said he collected about $100,000 in back rent in the 2004 fiscal year and
he been enforcing rules against tenants storing cars and household goods in
hangars, living in hangars and parking motor homes on ramps.
Dona Ana County spokesman Jess Williams said the county has no plans to
The tenants "were used to running their own shop out there; now we have
taken back control of the airport," he said.
Wilson said a sheriff's deputy patrols the airport, but agrees more fencing
is needed, especially on the south side of the airport near the roadways.
Estimates of fencing that area run up to $4 million.
The airport's troubles also have extended to those trying to help run it.
Four members of the county's Airport Advisory Board have recently resigned.
Bob Worthington, an expert in aviation safety, quit because the county
routinely ignored the board's advice.
"No matter what we did, nothing came to fruition within the county," he
Jorge Granados, county public works director, said county managers rewrote
the airport's operating standards on safety, security and other issues on
the board's recommendation.
Granados said two former board members resigned after being told to take
recommendations to the airport manager and not any further.
"This board was going outside of that chain of command and it was creating
problems," he said.
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