Flights of Fancy

Santa Fe residents and city officials take sneak peek at Santa Fe Regional Airport expansion

A red carpet laid out over wet walkways ushered guests in to explore the new terminal of the Santa Fe Regional Airport Saturday morning, accompanied by music from Nacha Mendez, founder and director of the Nacha Mendez Music Scholarship for New Mexican Girls of Color. Airport employees passed out refreshments and snacks. Just next door, people sat with bags waiting to board flights and watched confusedly as some individuals left the terminal area to meander through the departure check-in.

City Manager John Blair anticipates completion of the first phase—which has been underway for two years and is more than a year past its original completion date due to what officials have said were unforeseen problems—by the end of March.

“This is such a significant achievement for the City of Santa Fe to move forward and to improve the experience for our residents and guests,” Blair said during brief remarks at a podium stationed in front of art hanging on the back wall. “This airport is going to be getting better and better and better.”

Mayor Alan Webber did not attend the event due to a cold, but issued in advance the identical statement he gave two years ago when the project first began: “This project has been on the runway and now it’s taking off. The airport is a significant part of Santa Fe’s future. It represents economic opportunity and support for tourism. This $21.5 million investment will improve the customer experience—and it’s only the first phase.”

While a news release prior to the event said the room full of seating and natural light would serve as a new terminal, Blair tells SFR the space will eventually become baggage claim following the completion of the second phase of the renovation. However, Airport Manager James Harris says that plan could change.

“I’m looking at alternatives because to me, this space is just too nice to be a baggage claim,” Harris says, adding that he is considering the creation of an events space which could bring new streams of revenue to the airport.

“Who doesn’t want to get married at the airport with that backdrop?” he says, referring to the view of the runway and a backdrop of mountains.

Harris says he’s excited to see Santa Feans react to the new developments and decided to host an event because “the project has just been going on too long,” and people can see what the city has done so far.

“People haven’t seen the airport in a good light in a very long time,” he says. “With this expansion and the design, people will see we’re serious now and they’ll start utilizing it more.”

The Santa Fe Regional Airport introduced a “completely packed” flight to Houston last week, Harris noted and says with the expansion, more flights may follow.

“Once this portion is complete, we can actually house more passengers,” Harris says. “At the moment we are over capacity, so airlines aren’t taking us seriously.”

Yet the overall project, headed by Bradbury Stamm Construction, still has a ways to go. During his remarks, Blair said the city received an additional $2 million from the state to begin phase two of the project, as well as $4.5 million to construct a connecting road to Highway 599. Attendees’ anticipation appeared high, even including from District 3 City Councilor Lee Garcia, who says the expansion will prove “great for overall economic development.”

“It’s well received, but I wish it would already be finished,” Garcia tells SFR. “Things take time—especially here—and when we do construction anywhere you run into historical sites. In this case I think there were pipes in the parking lot, so they had to stop everything.”

A timeline for the renovation project projected on a screen in the back of the room schedules completion for phase two by Spring 2027.

Operations and Project Manager Katherine Rivera, a District 1 City Council candidate last year, also attended the preview event. She tells SFR throughout her travels for her career and to present day, she tries to use the Santa Fe Regional Airport “as much as possible.” She says she’s “thrilled” to see new developments and how it has changed over the years, but the city still has more work to do outside renovation.

“[The Santa Fe Regional Airport] was so quaint that it became funny, but it became delightful. Even though it was quaint and small, it was not going to be something that could sustain. Not that we expected huge growth, but it can always be something better,” Rivera says. “I’m hoping after all this is done we tackle transportation because getting in and out of here is a question mark.”

Currently, people that travel to and from the Santa Fe Regional Airport must traverse a relatively long distance to get to their cars from the free but mostly unmarked dirt parking lots. Transportation to and from the airport also remains an issue due to a lack of taxis (not counting illegal ones). In response to concerns, Blair says a handful of shuttles are already in route, and the city is working to get Uber and Lyft involved as well.

The event wrapped, and for now, people made their way over the red carpet, through the mud and to their cars.

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