The first presentation came from Advanced Air.
[Editor's Note: This is part 1 of a several article series on the work session, and this article includes the author meeting with them after their presentation.]
By Mary Alice Murphy
The first presentation of the Grant County Commission morning work session on June 22, 2021, came from Levi Stockton, president and founder of Advanced Air LLC and Jet Center Los Angeles.
"We just wanted to come by and say Hi," Stockton said. "We are in the middle of our third year here in Silver City, with direct flights to Albuquerque and Phoenix, Arizona. We also have flights out of and into Taos from Dallas and Austin, Texas, on Taos Air, as well as to Carlsbad and Hawthorne in California. Most of our operations are on the west coast and we want to stay in the area to provide everyone the best service we can. For 2019 in Silver City, we had just under 11,000 passengers flown in and out. For your flights out of Silver City, almost 70 percent are to and from Albuquerque, with 31 percent to Phoenix. Last year was a tough year. We had just 5,000 enplanements, last year, but for May we have seen an increase up to 900 enplanements, which we hadn't seen since February 2020. We are 96 percent on time for departures and landings and our completion percentage is 99.8 percent. Usually, the non-completion is for a maintenance issue and usually passengers can go on the next flight. What we generally do, if it's a maintenance issue, we bring in an airplane and have a mechanic on board to fix the issue and return that airplane to service. If you are not familiar with our ticket booklets, it's a great service for the community. We have currently 226 community members signed up for the booklets."
He discussed what Advanced Air has done within the community. "We purchase a lot of fuel here, 200,000 gallons a year, with about 86,000 to date this year. We average about 750 hotel rooms a year and include restaurants and so forth. During Covid, we started buying coupons for restaurants and gave them to our employees and customers. One of our employees moved here and bought a house. That's kind of exciting."
"During Covid, we did what most businesses did, slow down and try to figure out what's next," Stockton continued. "We reduced some flights but met the needs of our customers and fulfilled our federal obligation. In that process, we were able to lower our seat pricing to from $118 to $85 to Phoenix and from $85 to $65 to Albuquerque. That is the seat price for today or six months from now. Covid, for face masks, we're looking at until Sept. 13 from the TSA mandate. For marketing, we're talking to the Chamber of Commerce after this meeting, and then with real estate agents for those folks moving in, and meeting with the Grant County Beat and marketing there. We're trying to get the word out into the community about who we are and what we do. We have two surveys coming up, one to passengers who have flown with us and to try to get more data from those who haven't flown with us, and what they like and don't like.
"For the future, we want to continue to grow with the community, we want continued coordination on flight schedules, we want to support local businesses, and myself and our Executive Vice-President Donny Sandusky are still current and fly the line, so you will see us pretty often flying the planes," Stockton said.
He said they had slightly changed the schedule for flight into and out of Silver City. "We are looking for feedback on the schedule. Please give us feedback."
Stockton said Barbara Hunt, vice president of business operations, who, along with Human Resources Director Beatriz Fernandez, attended the meeting with him, has been working hard to get rentals available at the Grant County Airport. "We are focused on not getting over our skis, but we know there is a need."
He noted that Silver City is the only essential air service client Advanced Air serves, but "we hope for more in California and we have an opportunity for more in New Mexico. We will make Silver City our priority. We hope next year when we have to re-apply for the ESA contract that it will be a 4-year contract."
District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne said he is highly appreciative of "your service to Grant County, as well as your incredibly fast response to texts."
District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings said: "You said when you applied that you would knock it out of the park. You have kept your promise. I use you fairly often, and your flights have never once been late."
Stockton said hopefully next year, "the request for a 4-year contract comes from you and the Department of Transportation makes its decision based on your recommendation."
Billings said with most of the flights to and from Albuquerque, "have you thought about more to Phoenix?"
"If we determine we need more flights to Phoenix, we will consider expanding the number," Stockton said. "We are fairly full right now, but we don't have much data on the need for more flights."
He said two days a week, the flights from Silver City to Phoenix go on to Hawthorne, CA, which is right outside the Los Angeles International Airport. "It's an add-on of only $40 more than the ticket from Silver City to Phoenix to go on to LA. From just Phoenix to LA, the cost of the ticket if much higher. We wanted to give value to the community here. The layover is about 45 minutes."
After their presentation, this author visited with the Advanced Air team out in the lobby of the county administration center.
Hunt said that when the pandemic hit, ridership went down 90 percent, 50 percent over the entire year. "We had support from the Department of Transportation and kept flying the routes. It took a lot of planning."
Stockton said one of the original goals for Advanced Air in Silver City was to meet the number of 10,000 departures from the airport. "It brings the airport additional grant money. We are still hoping to meet that goal."
Hunt said, post-Covid, "we want to get more involved in the Silver City community. We want to let people know we are here. We will be talking to Steve Chavira at the Chamber of Commerce, and he will put our information into the packets he sends out."
On the rental vehicle issue, she said there might be a test, but "we're not sure what it looks like yet. We can't make any promises, but we know it's important to the community. We are talking with Rebekah (Wenger, airport manager) about a grand re-opening. No one has seen the new terminal, because of Covid. Because Silver City was our first ESA contract, we are very loyal to this community."
Fernandez said in addition to service, "we want your ideas."
Hunt said that Advanced Air wants to begin giving to two local charities and would like suggestions from the community.
The next article will get into the following presentation, which came from the Grant County Community Health Council.