Lake Tahoe Airport’s 20-year aviation demand forecasts, and the feasibility of restoring commercial passenger flight service that ended in 2000, will be the topic of a public meeting on Thursday.
The meeting is the second round of community outreach in a master planning process for South Lake Tahoe’s general aviation airport, built in 1959.
“Aviation forecasts have been done, so we will be touching on what those are anticipated to look like in the future and the reality of if commercial service is viable at the airport,” said Ralph Redman, managing planner at C&S Companies. “Commercial viability is a big component of what we will be talking about.”
The city of South Lake Tahoe and C&S Companies, based in San Diego, are tasked with completing the $350,000 master plan study, an airport development planning tool the Federal Aviation Administration requires for airports it funds. Lake Tahoe Airport’s last master plan was done in 1992.
The 20-year demand and capacity forecasts will help drive the selection of development alternatives for the airport and its 8,541-foot runway, which is capable of handling large aircraft up to 230,000 pounds. Forecasts have been reviewed by FAA.
Annual flights at Lake Tahoe Airport peaked at about 294,200 passenger enplanements in 1978 when the airport offered commercial passenger flight service. With that commercial service ended, the airport now sees about 24,000 flight operations each year, a figure that includes takeoffs and landings, most of them by visiting charter and general aviation pilots.
At a prior master plan meeting, some residents asked if the process will look at closing the airport. Other people voiced strong support for enhancing the airport and the role it plays in a local economy that relies heavily on tourism dollars.
City officials and planners involved in the master plan study said closing the airport would be a major financial challenge and leave the area without a critical transportation link for emergency support services.
Over the last 20 years, South Lake Tahoe has accepted more than $19 million in FAA grant money to develop its airport. With each grant, federal grant assurances require the city to keep the airport open through the useful life of the facilities developed, up to 20 years, or to pay the money back.
“FAA did comment on that issue (of closure) and has submitted a letter to the city. We will have that on hand,” Redman said. “It talks about what the steps would be if you wanted to go down that path. It is repaying a large amount of money and there are also other significant steps that would have to be completed.”