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Apr 14, 2017

Work Underway on Sunport's Visionary Aviation Center for Excellence

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More than 75 acres of prime land at the Albuquerque International Sunport, that was previously used for the north/south Runway 17-35, is in the process of being transformed into small city that could see the construction of manufacturing, retail, and warehousing facilities.

“We didn’t even ponder this idea until the runway was decommissioned,” says Jim Hinde of the north-south runway that was officially retired by the Federal Aviation Administration in 2012.

“Once that happened,” continues Hinde, who is the Sunport’s director of aviation, “we immediately started to think about how those 75 acres could be put to a new use.”

As planned, what is being called the Aviation Center for Excellence will see 2.5 acres allotted for a convenience store/gas station; 3 acres for an aviation training center; and 9 acres for a combination of restaurant and retail space.

Larger segments comprising a combined 30 acres will go for maintenance, repair and operations supply, as well as storage and warehousing.

The largest portion of the space made up of 20 acres on individual two-to-five acre sites will be used for aircraft component and engine manufacturing.

In a statement, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said the project will allow the airport to become a “leader in the aviation and aerospace industry in our region.”

The Sunport’s plans for the former runway space reflects a larger national trend that is seeing airports across the country using their property for a variety of non-plane use.

A book published in 2011 called Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next explores the increasing trend of airport property being converted into space for stores, restaurants, apartments, hotels, and offices.

One of the largest such projects is taking place at the Denver International Airport, where some 1,500 acres of airport property is being opened for such development.

“It’s called non-aviation revenue,” says Kevin Burke, the president and chief executive officer of the Airports Council International—North America.

“That’s revenue that you don’t derive from your use or lease agreements with the airlines or from rental car companies, or parking, or the retail in the terminal,” he says.

“Many airports have a lot of space and in order to reduce their costs and increase their revenues, they want to be able to sell land or use land where they can derive additional revenue,” continues Burke.

Hinde agrees: “Most of the airports across the country are fairly wealthy with land. We are not so much, but on the other hand, 75 acres certainly does represent a prime opportunity.”

Hinde notes that the Sunport has been thinking about pursuing non-airline use of its property for several years now. “The bulk of our revenue used to come from airlines,” he says. “But we’ve been slowly working to get to the point where the majority of that revenue will be non-airline.”

Work has already started at the Sunport on demolishing the old runway’s asphalt and rough grading. That first phase should see completion by June.

The second phase of the project, says Hinde, will see improvements to Girard and Gibson Boulevards.

“The final phase then will be the extension of utilities into the site, plus the internal roadways,” notes Hinde.

“If all goes well, we are planning on having all of this work completed by October or November of this year,” he adds.

The money used to prepare the site for the Center for Excellence is coming out of the Sunport’s capital program.

Even so, Hinde says it is difficult at present to estimate the ultimate construction costs of the new facilities that will be built on the site.

“It all depends on what kind of facility it is going to be,” he notes. “Building a hangar is a lot less expensive than building research and development space, or office space.”

Such non-airline related airport construction projects may prove to be the wave of the future, thinks Burke, if the Federal Aviation Administration “will loosen up its rules on how airports can use their own property that does not hinder commercial aviation, get in the way of any navigation devices, or in the way of a runway or taxiway.”

“It’s all about airports being able to build what they want on the land they own,” adds Burke.

 

By Garry Boulard

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