August 4, 2008

Our View With Economy Lagging, is Airport Debate Moot?

Once again, the sound of aircraft on the horizon -- and once again, a cacophony of pleadings for and against a Santa Fe airport with frequent and reliable connections to the rest of the world.

From the "for" folks come compelling arguments that if Northern New Mexico is ever going to amount to anything, commercially speaking, we've got to be readily reachable by air.

From the "against" people comes an equally compelling counter- argument: We already do amount to something: Santa Fe is a cultural and historical treasure. So are the surroundings. They include:

u Bandelier National Monument, where not even the touristic crowds can gabble away the peace and comparative quiet of the cave dwellings and ancient village -- but where jetliners' noise overhead is more than a mere irony; it spoils the sense of the place, which draws lots of tourists.

u Rancho de las Golondrinas, that marvelous living museum along the Camino Real; once inside its gates, you're into centuries past - - until jets and turboprops roar by.

u And our community's neighborhoods of today, many of whose residents moved here to escape the noise of big cities -- airliners among the major noisemakers.

Sorry, say the pro-airporters to that last bunch; if you want peace and quiet, don't buy or rent near an airport. But when many of them moved in, takeoffs and landings were infrequent. It's one thing to be buzzed by someone's private jet, or to hear putt-putting in the air from time to time -- but a whole bunch of roaring? How would you foothill-dwellers like it if that went on over your house?

Ah, but it won't; y'see, that's an advantage of living up here ...

The Federal Aviation Administration has drawn up a preliminary "environmental assessment" of increased commercial airline connections to Santa Fe. Its officials are given to decrees that we have to accept commercial flights; we've made pacts with the federal devil.

Predictably, the FAA says there would be little impact on the environment; same for Santa Fe's surroundings.

While the Chamber of Commerce chimes in with "so say all of us," many others question not only the prospect of more noise, but also the need for commercial flights at distinctively non-bargain fares when there's a fine airport, offering competitive ticket prices an hour down the road -- or railroad, if the governor gets around to tapping a spur of the Rail Runner into Albuquerque's Sunport.

That's been our biggest reason for reluctance toward local- airport boosterism. And we suspect that there are free-market reasons why this latest debate might be moot:

Major airlines are reducing their flight offerings -- including those to Albuquerque. And while Santa Fe is an inviting destination, not to mention home to a fair number of affluenti who'd love to do their flying directly to and from the City Different, is there money to be made on flights right to here instead of to a city of half a million people only a hop, skip and jump from Santa Fe?

So maybe we're in for a reprieve -- at least as long as the economy is in crash-landing mode.

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