ROSWELL, NM (KRQE) – The 300 jetliners parked along taxiways glisten in the morning sun. The dry and warm climate of southeastern New Mexico keeps the long rows of multi-million dollar aircraft from deteriorating.
“Moisture creates corrosion in these airplanes,” said Roswell International Air Center manager Scott Stark.
Airlines from around the world store, repair and get parts from the giant aircraft here.
Stark says the costs of storing aircraft at Roswell are some of the lowest in the country, and that’s designed to capture as much of the jetliner storage, repair, overhaul and used parts industry as possible.
“At this point it’s about a $65 billion business in the United States, that’s expected to grow to $100 billion in the next 10 years,” said Stark. “So we do see a lot of room for growth.”
Stark says the airport could easily triple the number of large jet aircraft that local maintenance providers store and maintain.
The sprawling facility was once Walker Air Force Base. As a Strategic Air Command base, it hosted heavy bombers that required ultra-long runways and hundreds of acres of wide paved ramps and taxiways. The unique resource has attracted several companies that now work on commercial planes. Together, they provide 600 jobs for area residents.
Many of the planes go to Stewart Industries where they can be overhauled, repaired or broken down into spare parts for airliners elsewhere. The company services large jet aircraft from major airlines like American and Delta, plus private businesses. Once all the usable spare parts are removed from an aircraft that will not fly again, it heads for some big tractors with giant metal claws.
“Where we’ll actually crunch the airplanes and do some metal recycling,” said president and COO Dale Mullinax.
However, the usable parts are much of the focus.
“They only make parts for so many years,” said Mullinax.
Electric hand tools whine, the noise filling up the cavernous old Air Force hangars as mechanics carefully unbolt, unscrew and collect the parts that can live again on aircraft flying elsewhere.
“These parts are all viable and can all be reused and recertified going through shops,” said Mullinax.
At Dean Baldwin Painting, their 160,000 square feet of hangars can hold nine jetliners at one time. Here, the big birds are either overhauled mechanically or treated to new paint jobs. Scores of workers carefully strip off old paint, wash the planes and apply new paint and logos.
“Between 120 and 180 personnel at a time, working 24/7,” said general manager David Mantay.
Major airlines and cargo companies are among the clients.
“The Roswell International Air Center is a jewel here in the United States,” said Mantay. “There’s so much more room to grow, introduce more technology into our processes and the sky’s the limit.”
That sentiment is shared by the president of the Roswell Chaves County Economic Development Corporation, John Mulcahy.
“We’re trying to let the world know that Roswell really exists,” said Mulcahy. “It’s pretty much an unknown entity, and it’s a rare asset.”
One of the new arrivals at the Roswell airport is GenAir. The company is moving its existing aircraft parts business from Tucson, Arizona to Roswell.
A groundbreaking this week for a large brand new hangar will give GenAir the space it needs to expand.
“We get 500 requests for parts a day, so we really need a location that has the assets for us to fill these requests,” said GenAir president Isaac Sheets.
Meanwhile, the Roswell Economic Development Corporation is pushing to market the Roswell facility better.
“We have the ability to put inventory on the ground for anybody who wants to do business,” said Mulcahy.
He feels that diversifying the local economy with more aviation businesses will reduce the dependence on the volatile oil and gas industry and dairy farming.