Tuesday, September 21, 2004
Fate of airport tower could be decided today
By Susan Wood
The Lake Tahoe (CA) Daily Tribune
With its 2004-05 fiscal-year funding up in the air, today’s City Council meeting could represent a make-it or break-it for the Lake Tahoe Airport tower. If the manned tower closes, however, the magnitude of its impact on South Shore business is uncertain.
“It definitely would have an effect on our business. We’d have fewer flights. But obviously, I don’t know by how much,” Enterprise Car Rental manager Pete Kimball said Monday.
Kimball couldn’t release the number of fares tallied in and out of the airport, but he did say the office runs an equal operation to their two Stateline-area locations.
Maria Lee, who runs Sierra West Limousines, noted her company logs about 150 trips to and from the Lake Tahoe Airport – with 99 percent traveling to and from the casino corridor.
Lee has estimated the tower closing may slightly hurt her business there. But she doesn’t expect a huge dent.
“The people we deal with will just fly into Minden when the weather is bad,” she said.
The Minden-Tahoe Airport also runs general aviation operations without a tower, but some would say with more predictable weather.
Some pilots have insisted having a person in the tower makes it safer to fly into the mountains, and in particular Tahoe Valley.
But the city faces a $3.1 million shortfall in the next fiscal year, instigating a cut of at least 10 percent in all departments. Moreover, the Federal Aviation Administration has imposed more of a shared expense on the city, which now has to shell out $220,000 annually.
Doubling the tower operation cost raises the airport subsidy to $620,000 out of the city’s general fund. It’s paid up until Oct. 1.
At the council meeting, the city will determine whether raising the landing rates and implementing the ground transportation fees will garner enough revenue through the year to justify its higher expense.
The city has an agreement with Serco Management of Murfreesburo, Tenn., for four contract employees to work there. Serco declined access to the tower to the Tahoe Daily Tribune on Monday.
The city’s airport operates with a Part 139 Certificate. This allows the city to have commercial air service but comes with special measures like those associated with security that would otherwise not need to be addressed.
In a meeting last week, FAA officials told the city it could regain its control tower if it closed temporarily.
However, the federal agency would not continue to fund the tower on reduced hours.