ALAMOGORDO — White Sands Regional Airport Manager Jim Talbert went before the Otero County Commission Thursday on behalf of New Mexico Aviation Aerospace Association (NMAAA) President Bill Shuert, and requested $3,000 to help support the 2017 Aviation Aerospace STEM Expo.
The NMAAA has been busy raising money to make this year’s aviation expo unforgettable after its success at Holloman Air Force Base last year.
During this month’s City Commission meeting, city commissioners pledged that they would cover $10,000 for the expo’s expenses and now the NMAAA is asking for the county’s help.
The expo is projected to cost about $35,000 that has been paid mostly through donations.
The highly anticipated aviation aerospace STEM expo is scheduled to take place Oct. 5 at the White Sands Regional Airport, the first time it will be held in a civilian facility in southern New Mexico, and already has about 3,000 students from across the state signed up to attend.
In this file photo, Members of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol provide information to students about their career at Holloman Air Force Base at the 2016 Aviation Aerospace STEM Expo. (Photo: Jacqueline Devine/Daily News File Photo)
“The NMAAA is a group of people up in Albuquerque that wanted to promote education for junior high and high school students to give them a path to an aviation type career,” said Talbert. “It’s doesn’t only showcase for pilot careers but for all the other parts in aviation maintenance. We even got the FAA coming, so it’s all different things.”
Talbert said the timing of the expo couldn’t have come at a better time especially after the announcement of the new F-16 squadrons coming to Holloman.
“Timing turned out to be interesting with the two F-16 squadrons coming to Holloman. There are 638 jobs available right now in Alamogordo and we don’t have 638 people to put in them,” said Talbert. “As Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Chief of Staff David Goldfein said, we need to grow our own, and this is what we’ve been doing for the last five years.”
The NMAAA is requesting $3,000 to help cover costs that the airport cannot offer compared to the military bases.
“The other four STEM events were put on military bases. Three were at Kirtland Air Force Base and one at Holloman. That allowed for certain things to be very easy which are very hard for us,” said Talbert. “The easy part was that they had huge facilities. They had restrooms and they had 100 Airmen that came out and helped. However, the hard part is getting airplanes and people on the bases.”
Talbert said by moving the expo to a civilian facility this year, the hard part has now become easy.
“Getting people at the airport and getting airplanes at the airport is easy for us,” he said. “The hard part now is the support. We don’t have the large hangars, we don’t have the bathroom facilities and we don’t have the food facilities. Our motto is, what was easy is now hard and what was hard is now easy.”
Because of the funding issue, the NMAAA has had to turn down a couple schools because they cannot afford transferring them to Alamogordo.
“We’ve been putting out invitations to schools and we have now had to turn down schools that want to come because we don’t have enough funding to get them here. Part of it is we’re paying for the fuel for buses from outside of the county,” said Talbert. “We are a 501(c)6 non-profit which people can donate but we are asking the county to assist us with $3,000 or more if they want to donate. We have extra expenses that we didn’t have at Holloman simply because we don’t have the facilities and we are catering the lunch.”
In this file photo, students stand next to a small plane at Holloman Air Force Base to learn about different aviation aircraft at the 2016 Aviation Aerospace STEM Expo. (Photo: Jacqueline Devine/Daily News File Photo)
Talbert said the funding would be worth it because the NMAAA would like to see the future of aviation in southern New Mexico.
“This is a long time growth plan for Otero County and Alamogordo, but we have to start because if we don’t, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “We want the future of aviation to be in Otero County.”
Since the item was placed as a scheduled citizen communication on this month’s agenda, County Manager Pamela Heltner said commissioners would not be able to vote until the item is placed on next month’s agenda as new business.
Talbert agreed to place the item on next month’s agenda even though it would be after the expo is over because the county would still be able to vote if they would like to pay for the invoices.
Commissioner Lori Bies asked if discretionary funds could be used to cover the expenses which Heltner replied that they could if commissioners decide to do so.
The 2017 Aviation Aerospace STEM Expo is Oct. 5 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the White Sands Regional Airport.
Students will get to experience 60 plus exhibits in the hangars and 45 plus aircraft on the ramp while having direct contact with pilots, engineers, scientists, military members and many more experts. On site, they will also have technical schools, colleges and military recruiters to provide guidance on career paths.
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