Albuquerque encouraged by Sunport air travel growth, upcoming changes to color-coded reopening system

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Mayor Tim Keller and the city’s Aviation Director held a news briefing Tuesday morning, providing at update to the return of air travel at the Albuquerque International Sunport. Watch the entire news conference in the video embedded in this webpage.

Mayor Keller was joined by Albuquerque Aviation Department Director Nyika Allen. Allen says overall passenger traffic has been “steadily increasingly” over the past couple of months. So far in the month of April, the city says it is averaging about 7,300 passengers through the Sunport each day.

“Our busy days over the past month were April 8, 9 and 22, each seeing over 9000 passengers per day,” Allen said. “Compared to the same period last year (in 2020,) during the height of the pandemic, we are up over 1000% percent (passenger traffic.)

Sunport travel is still down compared to the same April timeframe in 2019. Allen said the April 2021 travel numbers are down 50% compared to April 2019. However, Allen said that number still indicates “quite a bit of recovery” since her last news conference about Sunport recovery.

Some paused or canceled direct flights are also returning to the Sunport’s roster of destinations. Allen said Tuesday the Sunport currently offer 20 direct flight destinations, down from 25 at the airport’s height, pre-pandemic. Allegiant Air is expected to return with direct flights from the Sunport to Las Vegas, Nevada and Austin, Texas “soon.” Allen says American Airlines is also expected to return to the Sunport soon with its direct flight to Los Angeles, California.

As the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo remains in a “yellow” reopening status under the state’s “red to turquoise” criteria, Keller addressed the idea of if the city would “ever get to green.” Albuquerque has been in yellow since early February.

“We’re very optimistic because the state is signaling heavily, no secret, that they are going to revise the criteria, and they’re also weave in vaccination rates and so forth into the criteria,” Keller said. “So as vaccinations roll out, it’s just time to refresh the system how and we’re doing this.”

The mayor says he is encouraged that the state is considering changes to reopening criteria, based on the state’s continued vaccination effort.

“I would just say that I think it’s appropriate, it’s at the right time, this (color-coded) criteria has gotten us through to here,” Keller said. “It has made us safer state and a safer city than many around us, and that’s a good thing, so I think by in large this current set up has essentialyl worked more or less, but now what’s new is vaccinations.”

As of Monday, the New Mexico Department of Health has opened up COVID-19 vaccine self-scheduling for everyone 16 and older. State officials are hoping more young people get vaccinated.

The state’s COVID-19 vaccine dashboard website showed Monday that 40.8% of New Mexicans over the age of 16 are considered “fully vaccinated.” More than 57% of New Mexicans ages 16 and over have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine.

While getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is not required for schools in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Public Schools Operations Officer says that the vaccine has drastically reduced the number of positive COVID cases among school staff. Additionally, vaccinated students and staff are not required to quarantine for two weeks if they come into contact with a positive COVID case unless they show symptoms.

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