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City looks to passenger fee to help airport really take off | Business

Just two decades ago there were practically no commercial flights at the Santa Fe Municipal Airport, and the city’s mayor opposed a carrier that wanted to offer direct flights to tourist-rich cities in Texas and California.

In 1997, then-Mayor Debbie Jaramillo even ordered an airport manager to park a vehicle on the runway to stop Aspen Mountain Air from landing in Santa Fe after a dispute over a terminal lease. And that was fine with many Santa Fe residents, who could just as well do without the noise and didn’t mind the one-hour drive to the Albuquerque International Sunport.

“Santa Fe is not an air-friendly city,” an airline consultant said about the dispute in June 1997. “It’s crawling with tree-huggers. I mean, these are true Luddites.”

Santa Fe’s airport now enjoys renewed support from residents, as travelers are seeing more direct service to three big airline hubs — Dallas, Denver and Phoenix. The newest flight, to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport, is popular enough that American Airlines will be adding a second flight on certain days starting in November, according to new flight schedules.

The city also is completing a new master plan for its airport that, if approved, could bring $30 million in improvements to the facility during the next decade. Some of the money could come from a proposed $4.50 passenger facility fee on commercial tickets.

The fee, collected by the airlines with each ticket purchase, could raise $300,000 annually. It would be the first step to providing the city with a dedicated flow of money that could be used for major construction, including a new terminal with a second gate and new entry road that connects to N.M. 599.

But the potential expansion comes at a time when commercial air service is as fickle as ever. The city had no commercial jet service as…

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