by Bob Worthington
© Copyright 2022. All rights reserved!
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine April/May 2022 online issue.
Most non-aviation people view airports as being in two distinct different versions. Those which service the airlines and the much smaller county or municipal airports without commercial air service.
Many airports do not have a control tower. The larger airports with commercial air service are seen as necessities, because so many people fly today. The smaller airports are typically seen as noisy, catering only to local “rich guys” and their expensive toys. Few citizens realize how important their local airport is to the economy and wellbeing of the community it serves.
As too often happens, a local resident where I live (southern New Mexico) voiced his opinion (which was negative) decrying that our airport might grow because the city wants to provide commercial air service, turning it into “a noise-producing bane.” He called those who support our city’s general aviation airport a “miniscule-miniscule statistically insignificant number of folks.” These comments were published in a weekly community newspaper.
Our airport (KLRU), originally a World War II airport, is situated on 2,193 acres, eight miles west of the city on a mesa at an elevation of 4457 feet. The three runways (two are 7500 feet long and the other 6070 feet) provide six different directions for landing or departures. It has four instrument approaches (localizer, ILS, and two RNAV/GPS approaches). While non-towered, it does have radio-activated lighting for 24-hour operations. Due to our excellent weather (294 sunny days per year vs. U.S. average of 205 days), in 30 years of flying in and out of Las Cruces, I have only made one actual instrument approach. The airport does not offer commercial air service.
Working with the airport manager, I wrote a rebuttal to the publication, which had to be under 300 words. But thinking further, I realized the market of a small weekly newspaper does not have the reach of our US Today-affiliated daily newspaper. So, the following rebuttal is a longer “opinion piece” I wrote for my local newspaper.
What is the value of our
Las Cruces Airport?
by Bob Worthington
The Las Cruces, New Mexico International Airport was constructed during WW II as an auxiliary to support the Army Air Force bombardier training at Deming Field (50 miles west), long before any housing development near our airport. After WW II, the military released the airport for civilian use. Today, located on the West Mesa, 8 miles west of our city, it is a lifeline for residents of Las Cruces and significant as a regional general aviation airport, a vital part of the U.S. national air transportation system. While it does not offer commercial air service, it is a very active airport.
Our airport is home to over 120 business and private aircraft, supports 16 aviation-related businesses and seven non-profit organizations. They employ more than 83 full-time personnel (and several part-time workers).
Most of us use banks and shop in retail stores. Several are branches of state, regional, or national corporations which fly into Las Cruces monthly to support their businesses. State government officials conducting business here use our airport. Border security patrols fly from here. A New Mexico National Guard aviation unit is based on the airport. Military and cross-country transient planes stop here for refueling and food. Charter aircraft often use this airport providing transportation for local businesses (to include Spaceport America tenants) and catering to sports teams associated with New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
Several airport businesses provide aviation fuel and aircraft maintenance services supporting southern New Mexico and west Texas.
LRU is also home to the New Mexico State University Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS or drones) Flight Test Center. It is one of seven FAA-approved UAS test centers in the U.S. Its mission is to define how UAS can be safely integrated into U.S. airspace. To accomplish this the Center has several UAS aircraft, air crew, technicians, and engineers, as well as a propulsion test facility.
COVID-19 has brought many medical facilities to the brink of capacity. People need emergency medical treatment every day and aerial medical evacuations allow patients to be transported quickly and safely to where proper emergency care can be provided. Our airport supports 4 to 6 medical evacuation flights every day.
The largest business on the field with 19 professionals is the air ambulance (helicopter) service. It alone, averages from 35 to 56 flights a month. It has its own maintenance facilities and back-up helicopters, and the parent corporation has medical transportation airplanes for longer flights. I am a very, major fan of aerial medical evacuation procedures because in 1968, in Vietnam, a military med-evac saved my life.
On-airport flight schools train pilots from around the nation as the sunny days are optimal for maximum flying without weather delays. Which is why the U.S. Navy conducted primary training here during the winter, in the past.
Our airport is not and never will be a noisy nuisance, but an essential economic, transportation, and medical necessity for which everyone benefits.
Airports are the lifeblood of aviation. Without airports, there is no flying. A member of our local helicopter ambulance service described it this way. “Without an airport, we could not exist. Yes, we land on highways for accident patients, and land at hospital helicopter pads. But we need an airport to base our operations, for fuel, for maintenance, and to place our back-up helicopters. Airports allow us to do our job.”
In my experience, if a local airport has no commercial air service, most residents have never visited their airport, nor do they understand how important it is to the local economy and their wellbeing because of aerial medical transportation. And the COVID in the past couple of years has limited any opportunities to promote the airport by offering aviation-related events (such as EAA fly-in breakfasts or air shows).
As owners and pilots, we need our local general aviation airports. We need to confirm their value to our community. We need to explain to our neighbors how important the airport is to all of us. Yes, we use it constantly for “touch and goes” or practicing instrument approaches, but it is essential to our local commerce and a medical necessity for everyone.
As pilots, working with airport management, you can use the above editorial piece as a template to write a similar piece for your local media. Work with your airport management to get the facts. Help your community to recognize how valuable their airport is to their welfare. Instead of being a noisy nuisance or playground for rich boys with their expensive toys, it can mean the difference between living or dying for a friend or loved one. Local small airports are the lifeblood for a community, even if the citizens do not know that. You can rectify that by penning an opinion piece. Share with your neighbors why their airport is of value to them.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Pilot, Viet Nam veteran and former university professor, Bob Worthington of Las Cruces, New Mexico, is the author of “Under Fire with ARVN Infantry” (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/Under-Fire-with-ARVN-Infantry/), and producer of the 2019 film “Combat Advisor in Vietnam” (www.borderlandsmedia.com). Facebook: Bob Worthington Writer. Website: www.BobWorthingtonWriter.com. Bob Worthington has placed excerpts about combat flying in Vietnam (from his books) on his website. Here is a direct link to those excerpts: www.BobWorthingtonWriter.com/combat-flying-in-vietnam/. Every couple of months, he adds another excerpt.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author and is not intended to be legal advice. Readers are urged to seek the advice of others, and refer to publications and resources available from local, state, and federal government, including the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association. Neither the author, Midwest Flyer Magazine, Flyer Publications, Inc., or their staffs, employees or advertisers assume any liability for the accuracy or content of this column or any other column or article in this publication.