Los Alamos County officials commented this morning on two news stories featured by KOB and KOAT television that New Mexico Airlines, who holds a contract with the Los Alamos Airport for commercial air service, has suspended all flights in New Mexico.
“On Dec. 4, we learned through customer reports and airport observations that all flights had been canceled,” Public Works Director Philo Shelton said.
Upon learning the news, the County contacted New Mexico Airlines to inquire if the flight cancellations were temporary or if any information could be furnished to the Airport or to customers. The County requested a meeting with Gabe Kimbrell, President & Director of Operations for Pacific Wings, which operates the airlines in New Mexico, but he was out of the state and not available.
Shelton said he queried Kimbrell a second time on Monday morning via email to ask for a status update, stating concern for customers and the need for timely information.
“He replied that they were contacting customers individually and letting them know their options without penalties for the cancelled flights,” he said, adding that although he expressed growing concern and asked about the reason for the cancellations on Monday, he was told in an e-mail response from Kimbrell that the cancelations were due to “a combination of factors, but should be corrected toward the end of the week.”
Shelton said that Kimbrell contacted him by e-mail this morning that flight service is not suspended indefinitely for Los Alamos, and that the company would be releasing more information shortly.
“We cannot speak on behalf of Pacific Wings, or New Mexico Airlines – it would be inappropriate for us to comment on their operations or efforts in contacting customers,” Shelton said, “however, we will say that we are concerned and are evaluating our options, should we need to take a different course of action with our contract for service, so that we are prepared if this situation is not corrected in the near future.”
Commercial airline service is part of economic development initiatives for the County; under the terms of the contract, the County subsidizes flights. However, the County does not pay if the airlines does not fly the planes, Shelton said. Marketing of the airlines is accomplished through a state grant matched by County funds, using resources in house, Shelton said. When the cancellations continued last week, the County put new marketing initiatives planned for December and January on hold, he said.
“We are very conscious of the fact that County funds are helping subsidize this service, and it needs to be reliable for our customers to travel,” he said, “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and take further action to reduce our exposure and use of taxpayer funds as necessary.”
New Mexico Airlines began flights between Los Alamos and Albuquerque in April 2013. The current contract ends June 30, 2015.
Shelton said that as soon as the County has additional information that it can share about the commercial airline service, he will issue another statement.