Albuquerque Sunport retires historic runway
Posted at: 07/02/2012 5:45 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, Eyewitness News 4
The Albuquerque Sunport has shut down its historic north-south runway - 10,000 feet of concrete with a colorful and controversial past.
On Monday, airport employees held a retirement for the runway, known to pilots and air traffic controllers as "17-35". The big yellow X's painted on each end of the runway mean it is out of business for keeps.
The runway was built back in 1939 when the old Municipal Airport first opened. Back then, gasoline was a dime a gallon and hamburger was 14 cents a pound.
For all those years the runway took a beating from the landings and takeoffs of DC-3s and 737s to B-17s and F-16s, and just about every other military and commercial and general aviation plane to sprout wings.
"I go way back to 1957 at the old airport where we had to walk out to the airplanes," said Bill Rothanbargar, a retired travel agent and now a member of the Sunport's advisory board. "Most of the planes were prop jobs in those days. I kind of remember the old TWA Constellation, if you recall that. That was before the jet-ways, so it was unique. People used to drive out here on Sunday afternoons to watch the planes taking off and landing. We had a great restaurant in the terminal, the Fred Harvey House."
The runway was controversial in the early 1990s, when the main east-west runway was being rebuilt and all of the air traffic had to be re-routed north-south, right down low over residential neighborhoods. The public squawking was sometimes louder than the jet noise but somehow we all endured.
In recent years the old runway has been caving in a little bit and deteriorating, and neither the federal government nor the locals nor the airlines wanted to pay the bill.
"The airlines and military operations, they haven't really used this runway for 12 years," said city Aviation Director Jim Hinde. "They haven't been on this since 2000. It's used primarily by the smaller aircraft, the general aviation aircraft."
"That's one less runway," said New Mexico Airlines pilot Alex Pope. "It's actually two less runways for airlines to use in case of winds or emergency operations or special operations. We won't have access to it any more, so we're kind of bitter on that one. Still, it's been a great runway and the Sunport is a great airport."
Hinde said the runway retirement is not going to affect the vast majority of air travel at the Sunport whatsoever. There are many more miles of runways to use, and if a north-south or south-north trajectory is needed for small planes in high winds, there's always another runway aligned that same way at the Double Eagle Airport on Albuquerque's West Side.