Belen runway expansion gets FAA approval

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After years of waiting and hoping, Belen city officials announced this week that the Federal Aviation Administration has given its final approval for a new crosswind runway at the Belen Alexander Municipal Airport.

Belen Mayor Jerah Cordova made the announcement on Monday, saying the city has been working on this major project for many years, including through the administrations of former mayors Ronnie Torres and Rudy Jaramillo.

"We've been putting together the pieces, buying the land and putting all of the money together for an expanded airport, which will feature, first and foremost, a new runway," Cordova said. "The new runway will be a crosswind runway that will allow air traffic to take a slightly different pattern into Belen."

The mayor explained that the new runway, which will be situated northwest to southeast, will give pilots an alternative to land and take off from the city-owned airport. He said when the winds are blowing in a certain direction, pilots cannot land on the current runway, which runs east to west.

"This has been a major project with so many partners over the years," Cordova said. "It has been years of annexation and purchasing land. It was very expensive and a difficult proposition to get all that land so we can build this runway here."

The project has been under design for a couple of months and, according to Robert Uecker, the airport manager, construction should start before the end of the year.

"This project is great for the city because it allows the expansion of the airport," Uecker said. "This new runway will allow people to land in a much safer pattern."

Not only is the new runway a benefit to pilots, Uecker said that it will be an economic benefit to the airport and to the city of Belen. He explained that companies interested in locating at an airport look for facilities that have better, safer and longer runways.

The new runway will be about 5,280 feet long and wider than the current runway, which is 6,600 feet long, and will be capable of handling heavier airplanes.

In the future, the city hopes to expand the new runway to 6,700 feet, which would cross over Camino del Llano. At that point, the road will stop at the airport and those living west of the airport will be rerouted to Harrison Road, Uecker said.

The strength of the new runway will be able to hold about 160,000 pounds, three to four times what the current runway can handle. Uecker said while an airliner would not be able to land at the airport, smaller cargo planes or small business jets would be able to use the runway. He also said it will be able to handle some military aircraft, such as a C-130.

The current design process of the new runway began in 2009, but a previous design started in 2003. The idea of expanding to a second runway started more than 20 years ago.

Uecker said a couple businesses have recently expressed interest in operating at the Belen Municipal Alexander Airport, but as of this date, no one has made it official.

Cordova said that not only will the new runway attract new businesses to the facility, but the economic benefits will likely be seen within the city of Belen as well as the county.

While a portion of gross receipts taxes was authorized from 2002 to 2012 for maintenance and improvement to airports throughout the state, the authorization expired. A bill, introduced by Sen. Michael Sanchez in 2013, the senate majority leader, re-authorized the funding, which provided the revenue stream for the nearly $4 million Belen project.

"The improvements to the Belen airport will bring a much needed boost to Valencia County's economic development. My hope is that businesses will take advantage of our airport and see that Belen truly is a 'hub' for their transportation needs," Sanchez said. "I'm very excited the process to build a better runway is underway. I want my constituents and anybody else who uses this airport to safely land and take off. The improvements to Belen's airport are necessary and I'm happy the FAA finally gave them the green light."


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.