S. Lake Tahoe gives up on commercial air service


By Kathryn Reed

Lake Tahoe Airport will not have commercial service – at least for the indefinite future.

That was the unanimous decision of the South Lake Tahoe City Council on Aug. 5.

Michael Hotaling, the consultant putting the airport master plan together, essentially gave the council an ultimatum – commercial or general aviation airport? This is so his people can be more focused in their approach as they put together the document.

South Lake Tahoe has not had commercial air service since 2000.

Planes of all sizes use Lake Tahoe Airport. Photo/LTN file

Planes of all sizes use Lake Tahoe Airport. Photo/LTN file

Hotaling made a case for how difficult it would be for this airport to attract commercial service again. The industry isn’t what it was. Airlines have been consolidated. They are all about having planes at least 85 percent full because it isn’t until they are at 75 percent capacity that they make a profit.

He pointed out that an airport like Mammoth could attract commercial service because of a $2 million annual subsidy, as well as Los Angeles International Airport being several hours away.

Lake Tahoe is an hour from the Reno airport. And as Pat Ronan, owner of Lakeshore Lodge and Spa, said, when Interstate 580 in Nevada extends farther into Carson City, it will cut another 10 minutes off the drive between Reno and South Lake Tahoe. Driving less than hour is a psychological threshold, he implied.

Three people spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting in regards to the airport. All favor the focus being on general aviation.

But this does not mean big planes won’t fly into the airport. The airport still has FAA clearance for large planes like a 737 to land. It could also mean a Gulf Stream V landing.

Planes of significant size are a regular sight during the American Century Championship golf tournament.

And these days it’s not unusual for people to have fractional ownership of sizeable aircraft. And the GA designation does not stop commuter flights.

Keeping the 139 certificate from the FAA will allow flexibility for the airport. While it costs the city $75,000 a year to comply with the 139 regulations, it potentially pays for itself because there are pilots who won’t land without that designation. And with it, it could be easier for the airport to contemplate commercial service in the future.

But Hotaling explained how the narrowness of the runways could present a future conundrum if the city were to try to attract commercial service. There isn’t the width needed per FAA standards. And to create it would potentially be an environmental nightmare.

An issue raised at many meetings about the airport is whether it is a financial burden or benefit. Hotaling recommended the city do an economic study to find the answer. The council agreed to do just that.

 In other action:

  • Several people spoke about the inadequacies of the city when it comes to enforcing various codes. Vacation rentals were the primary target of angst. It was agreed that at a future meeting the enforcement aspect of vacation rentals would be addressed.
  • On Aug. 12 at 5:30pm city staff and recreation commissioners will be at Regan Beach gathering input from people about what they would like to see improved at the beachfront.

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Comments (17)
  1. steve says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    Soon the city council will be taking credit for having the foresight of making the area more environmental friendly by not allowing this huge source of noise pollution to impact our town. Along those lines whatever happen to the helicopter tours?

  2. Toxic Warrior says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    That’s a good move ……. because most of us didn’t move here to be reading the lettering on aircraft tires right over our homes. Commercial carrier business was never a benefit to anyone other than the casinos.

  3. k9woods says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    Keep it! The 2007 Angora Fire is a perfect example of why we need this resource in the basin.

  4. dumbfounded says - Posted: August 6, 2014


  5. Perry R. Obray says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    A lot of asphalt at the airport for events. Be interesting to see some kind of zero/low emission transportation event there.

  6. Really says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    With all of the remote places to go in and around town, what makes people think anyone would want to leave their car at the airport so they can waste time with scheduled commuter service and the inconvenience of returning all the way across town to grab a car and get out to do something not serviced by busses?? One of the stupidest ideas presented yet.

  7. Jason says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    The airport is vital to emergency situations and medical helicopters, fire fighting aircraft, and general aviation.

  8. Kody says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    It would be nice for the City to FINALLY stop spending taxpayer dollars on consultants to tell them the same thing over and over: commercial service is not viable. This is not new information and we’ve paid for it several times over.

    Great next move would be to stop subsidizing all those private flights for the casino and golf course guests.

  9. City Resident says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    Jason notes that the airport is vital in emergency situations, k9woods gives as an example the Angora fire. I agree. However, the Angora fire, and most other emergencies during which the airport would be vital, happened or will happen outside of the city limits. The huge subsidy (as much as $600,000/year) that keeps the airport solvent is borne entirely by the poor suckers who live in the City of South Lake Tahoe.

    The city should pass ownership to a regional JPA so the cost of this emergency asset is borne by those who benefit from it. The city can apply its savings to repairing roads and paying better salaries to our police and firemen.

    I cannot understand why our city insists on ownership of this regional asset. I do understand why airport boosters who live in unincorporated El Dorado county and Nevada prefer that City of South Lake Tahoe taxpayers subsidize them. The city needs to force the issue.

  10. 4-mer-usmc says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    City Resident:

    I think the idea of an Airport JPA is a viable solution. Now all we have to do is get EDC and Douglas County to agree to participate. Any suggestions on leverage?

  11. Used to be a fun place says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    The runway is NOT too narrow for commercial service carriers. Read the regs again.

  12. Garry Bowen says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    Bill Harrah, in his insight upon learning of the 1960 Olympic potential for international travelers, created the Committee (represented by the large brass plaque next to the City Office reception window) in 1959 to guide the expansion of the runway to accept jets, as he had a designated use in mind – the ferrying of ‘junket’ customers from Mexico City (via Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, etc. to board in MC and come straight to Lake Tahoe. . .

    Coincided with the introduction of Baccarat (one had to speak at least three languages to deal it – one of which was English) to cater to the ‘Continental’ appreciation for Baccarat at the time. . .

    That’s the only specific & planned use I know of for this airport as a “destination” – all others are subject to whichever way the wind blows for others, starting with the ‘Hub’ concept at major airports which directed ‘puddle-jumper’ sub-airlines to serve us. . . which never worked for the various national carriers. . .

    On top of that, any reasonable person who can count knows that more people in cars go by each hour than ever landed at this airport. . .so much for multi-modal ! .

    I worked at Harrah’s in Public Relations at the time of Harrah’s ‘Starliner’, a ‘swoop’ (like their logo) of stars touting its use along the fuselage. . . .

    Not any good use since. . .

  13. dumbfounded says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    Marine, hit the nail again. Well done (no sarcasm).

  14. Rob5 says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    In a stroke of genius the county sold the airport to the city for $1 many years ago. There is no way the county will undo that decision.

  15. SLTEXPAT says - Posted: August 6, 2014

    Will this issue ever die? The City of SLT needs to quit subsidizing the airport for private jets to land and then the people be whisked away to the Casinos where they spend their money in Douglas County. CALSTAR could still have a base there and fire fighting planes and helos can use the Minden airport as a local base as needed. Turn the asphalt at the airport in to a money maker for the City of SLT. RV park, snow mobile races in the winter time, whatever clever ideas the people come up with and can agree on (lol).

  16. Sheri says - Posted: August 7, 2014

    Major bummer!!

  17. rock4tahoe says - Posted: August 8, 2014

    Steve. Got some City Council envy going on there dude.