Reposted with permission from the Hobbs News Sun.

CURTIS C. WYNNE | NEWS-SUN

Expansion of the Lea County Regional Airport terminal, Phase 1, nears completion at just the right time.

With new flights to and from Denver, added to the established flights to and from Houston, new challenges are surfacing, so Lea County Assistant Manager Corey Needham showed excitement that the first phase will be done in just a few months.

“The expansion couldn’t come at a better time. We’re doing it in three phases. What we’re doing right now is phase one,” Needham said. “For the 4,400 square-foot terminal, this will add approximately 9,000 square feet to it, tripling the size.”

The current terminal was constructed and expanded to 4,400 square feet in 2008. By 2011, the county realized a much larger terminal would be required for current and future needs.

“The problems we have are obvious. It is crowded. The restrooms are outside the secured area. We have a 50-seat aircraft that we only have 42 seats in the secured area for,” Needham said. “Picking up your baggage is a challenge.”

Then, when direct flights to Denver were added in October, a new challenge raised its head as an unforeseen consequence. HOB, the airline industry code for the Hobbs airport, has become a connection point.

“We have a unique challenge we didn’t foresee. Instead of people going directly from Denver to Houston, if the mainline flights are full, we have become a connections airport since we started the Denver flight,” Needham said. “We did not foresee that coming until we had the first flight coming in and we had passengers come from Denver to Hobbs and had to get re-screened to go from Hobbs to Houston. We’re having three to seven passengers per flight that are connecting through Hobbs.”

With completion of phase 1 expansion, connecting passengers will be able to stay in the secured area and forego another trip through the TSA checkpoint.

“In 2011, we started working on a multi-step process to expand the terminal,” Needham said.

Needing to create room for expansion, the county bought and tore down a hangar on which a new fire station was constructed. Then the old fire station near the terminal was torn down before construction on the terminal could begin.

“It took eight years, but it was really four or five projects in the right sequence in order to for us to have the space necessary to start building the terminal building we’re working on now,” Needham said.

When phase 1 is completed in the first quarter (January-March) of 2020, the basic problems with the terminal will be resolved.

“It will give us a little over 75 seats in the secured area, getting rid of that problem. There will be three restrooms in the secured area, so we’ll have restrooms on both sides,” Needham said. “We’ll have an actual baggage claim area with a baggage belt. We’ll have an appropriately sized TSA checkpoint so you don’t have to crowd in there.”

Moving the TSA checkpoint and secured passenger area, also called a hold room, will open up the old portion of the building to begin phase 2.

“That will allow us to tear apart the existing terminal and renovate it,” Needham said. “We’ll be able to move our ticketing in closer so if you are ticketing or if there’s a canceled flight, you’re not standing outside.” Currently, the ticket counter is near the entrance to the terminal.

Another change will be expansion of rental car counter into the area currently used for passenger seating.

“Beyond just one rental car company, we’ll have three,” Needham said, adding he doesn’t yet know which rental car companies will serve the area because requests for proposal (RFP) have yet to be issued.

“We think we’ve dealt with the immediate issues and also some of the growth issues,” Needham said.

Many of the immediate issues also involve parking lots that are also in expansion mode.

“We have a unique situation in Hobbs with free parking and people that use our airport,” Needham said, noting a large number of oilfield vehicles left parked for one to two weeks at a time, a situation he called a good problem.

“If you look at the guidelines for design that they have for various airports, with our enplanement levels, we should need 200 parking spaces,” Needham said. “We have roughly 400 parking spaces right now and it’s not enough. We’re working on expanding our parking lot from 360 paved parking spots to 901 by the end of the first quarter of 2020. We have the math for that.”

Needham called the fact that the Lea County Regional Airport has free parking “one of our better selling points.”

Phase 2 is broken down into four “sub-phases,” Needham said, Phases 2A-2D, moving the ticketing area, establishing the rental car area and renovating the administration area in two final parts.

Finally, Phase 3 will double the phase 1 gate seating area.

“Right now, we have 42 seats. Phase 1 will go to 75, then phase 3 will go to 176 seats so we can accommodate multiple planes on the ground at one time or, eventually, a much larger aircraft,” Needham said.

Phase 3 also will add a food service area in the secured area.

“It won’t just be a vending machine,” Needham said, but he didn’t know yet any details of the food service to come. “That’s to be determined. We have to go out with an RFP, but we can see a coffee place with some food being successful in that area.”

Finally, Needham anticipated enough of Phases 2 and 3 will be completed by June 2020 to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“The really good thing with this construction project is we have a local contractor, Lasco Construction, just down the road. We have Lane Plumbing and, although they’re out of Alamogordo, they have moved people permanently into Hobbs for the project,” Needham said. “City Glass is local. Glass is a major portion of this project. The electricians are from out of town. On this project, the general contractor and a lot of the sub contractors are all from Lea County and Hobbs.”

Curtis C. Wynne may be contacted at reporter3@hobbsnews. com.