BELEN — The city of Belen is negotiating with an Albuquerque-based company to bring a flight school and other services to the Belen Alexander Airport.
As many as 500 students could soon be studying and training to become helicopter and fixed-wing pilots and instructors at any given time.
Steve Tomita, the city’s planning and economic development director, told the city council he is working with Vertical Limit Aviation on a lease agreement for a fixed base operator at the city-owned and operated airport.
“What this is doing is setting forth an operator of the airport. They would have a hangar and services. They would also be running the fuel services, and we would be charging them rates and would increase our revenues,” Tomita said. “What’s also critical is they would be taking over the insurance and all the risk that is part of running an airport. Also, what’s key is that the FBO is an international flight school that will be training pilots for commercial services.”
Doug Christian, founder and owner of Vertical Limit Aviation in Albuquerque, told the council there are a lot of services they provide, including flight training, charters, tours, aerial photography and survey and more.
“We are a 135 commercial operator, so it’s just like Southwest Airlines,” he said. “We have the same certificate but they just carry more passengers. We can pick up passengers from different locations and drop them off.
“We’re also a 141 flight school, which is the highest level of education you can provide through the FAA,” he said. “We’re the only roto-craft school in the state of New Mexico.”
Christian said Vertical Limit Aviation is VA approved, meaning veterans can learn how to fly helicopters with their GI Bill.
As a Robinson certified service center, Vertical Limit Aviation will be able to provide additional duties, such as servicing and rebuilding helicopters.
Vertical Limit Aviation is proposing to build a 10,000 square foot hangar on the airport’s parking lot, where they will begin a maintenance operation.
“That’s something that isn’t at the airport right now, and we can help existing tenants, as well as bring in additional clients outside of the state,” he said. “The state has a tax benefit that those manufacturing or working on aircraft don’t have to pay that tax.”
The company already has a signed contract that would bring instructor students to train, Christian said. Another contract is in the works to bring in international student pilots.
“They’ve already received funding for 240 students, and they’re looking at bringing in 500 students,” he said. “The contract looks to last up to five years, and then could extend beyond that.”
At the peak of this venture, which is about 15 months, they can have 500 students in Belen at any given time. Every month, they’ll send 20 students to the school, and 20 will leave.
“This is one of many contracts we’re looking at,” Christian said. “This is a big one and we wanted to focus on this one before we bring on additional students.”
Every student, Christian said, will bring additional revenue to the city as well as the state. He explained each student is pre-approved $25,000 of tour money, which they can use to do whatever they want, such as weekend excursions around the state.
Because there currently isn’t enough facilities in Valencia County to house the students, Vertical Limit Aviation will find housing in Albuquerque and transport them to the Hub City on a daily basis.
“In the long-term, we would like to house them here,” Christian said. “We’re looking at property (south of the airport) to build a high-altitude flight training center, which would include dorm rooms, a cafe, classrooms and a testing center.”
Because the T-hangars at the Belen airport are filled to capacity, Christian is hoping to build additional hangars so additional aircraft can come to the Belen airport.
“There’s been some other locations that we’ve looked at, and there are other cities who want us to go to their area, but this is where we want to be — at the Belen airport,” Christian said. “Another reason we want to come here is the traffic. There’s not that much traffic, and we’re going to be bringing in a lot of aircraft and with 500 students trying to fly every day. That’s going to be difficult in Albuquerque.”
Vertical Limit Aviation is also planning for additional hangar space for VIP and corporate aircraft, which they will have the ability to house and refuel. Christian said they will also be able to transport them from here to Albuquerque in a helicopter, or bring in rental cars.
“It will bring a lot of advantages to the airport,” he said.
Christian is also working with CNM on a degree course, and has reached out to UNM to put together an English learning center to better train the students and ensure they’re ready for radio communications.
Tomita said while they’re still working on the specifics of the agreement, they plan on presenting it to the council within the next few weeks for consideration.