South Lake Tahoe Would Benefit From Airline Service

Thursday, April 19, 2007
Report: Airport would bring spenders to the South Shore; critic contends history shows airlines wouldn’t make it
By Susan Wood
The Tahoe (CA) Daily Tribune

If commercial service returns to the Lake Tahoe Airport in the coming years, it may equate to $111 million a year in revenue, mainly from visitor spending on the South Shore between 2008 and 2012. That’s what consultant Nolan Rosall of RRC Associates in Boulder, Colo., projected, along with an estimate of 538,580 passengers coming and going to and from the area. Airlines including Allegiant Air, PSA and Vanguard have tried and failed. But there’s potential to attract regional jets seating between 70 and 138 passengers, Rosall added. “I think there are tremendous advantages in landing in your destination where you’re planning on spending your time,” Mayor Kathay Lovell said of the economic report, while comparing the arrival with spending over 11?2 hours driving to and parking at the Reno/Tahoe International Airport.

Despite facing public skepticism, a huge investment needed to get the local airport up to post-9/11standards, the failure rate of small airlines, and loss of its manned air tower, the city has never quite let go of the possibility of turning the aviation facility into a landing spot again for commercial carriers.

The desire has been heightened by the upcoming ground breaking of the convention center complex in May, Councilman Ted Long pointed out.

Rosall also estimated visitors – about a third motivated to come here because of commercial service in town – would spend an average of $650 each on their trips. In recognizing some visitors would spend across the state and county line, the city would capture half of the revenue generated by the city, the report adds. Harrah’s Lake Tahoe in Stateline operates charter flights out of the small airport – 15 in January, 19 in February, 24 in March and 21 in April.

Rosall used the Eagle County Regional Airport as one example.

Commercial traffic predicted in the study for Tahoe amounts to up to 430,000 people stepping on and off a plane annually – with peaks and valleys of passengers fluctuating from the weekends to midweek days.

The report goes on to predict a third of the visitors would select the area based on access to flights.

But the assumption was quickly disputed by longtime airport critic John Friedrich, who spoke as a South Shore citizen amid questioning from Councilman Mike Weber. Friedrich works as a consultant after a long stint working on staff for the League to Save Lake Tahoe , an environmental advocacy group (An Anti Airport Group…..Ed) that spearheaded a legal effort for noise standards at the airport ending in a settlement agreement.

The League had recently created a report of its own on the controversial airport – one that was more critical of its status to the environment.

Friedrich pointed to a 1987 marketing survey conducted by the city, which dictates 80 percent of people who fly said they would have taken the trip to Tahoe even if no scheduled air service were available.

“And history has shown it’s not able to sustain commercial service,” he said.

He further cited the success of Southwest Airlines constituting over half the flights going in and out of the Reno airport.

“We came to that conclusion with the full knowledge of the variety of service (at Reno),” Rosall countered.

But Councilman Bill Crawford pointed to the report’s executive summary own assertion the model not “intended to provide a definitive estimate of the likely economic impacts.” He called the statement a disclaimer.

Commercial service report

  • $111,000 million in spending on the South Shore
  • City to capture 50 percent of visitor spending
  • 32.5 percent of visitors would be spurred to select South Lake Tahoe as a destination if there was commercial service
  • Average spending per visitor per trip $650

    The Eagle County Regional Airport, which relies on a 5 percent subsidy from the county, has experienced a 10- to 12 percent gain in passenger counts since the early 1990s, according to Terminal Manager Chris Anderson. The airport expanded in 2001. United and American airlines fly out of the airport, with talks going on now with Frontier Airlines. A Colorado transportation study indicated the airport brings in $390 a day per visitor into the community, totaling $86 million in revenue with 221,000 recorded enplanements, Anderson said.

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