Membership-based airline expands service to and from Truckee Tahoe Airport |

Membership-based airline expands service to and from Truckee Tahoe Airport

According to Google, the drive from San Francisco to Truckee is about four hours. But anyone who's ever tried to get into Truckee on a Friday after work, or out of the Bay Area for that matter, will tell you that traffic can add hours and a lot of stress onto the drive. You could fly, but connecting flights can take up to the same amount of time as driving, and that's without the added time waiting to go through airport security. Enter SurfAir, a company whose founders must have thought, "There's got to be a better way." Now, after three years of business, the customer experience remains a top priority. "We're ultimately giving time to our members," said SurfAir CEO Jeff Potter. SurfAir is kind of like the Netflix of air travel — if Netflix offered to hand-deliver movies and park your car for you. For a monthly fee of $1,950, SurfAir members can fly an unlimited number of trips between the company's 13 destinations. Currently, they fly to 12 locations throughout California and also to Las Vegas. Starting this winter, their service will also include trips to Europe. "This is a shared use model, so there are other members on the aircraft at the same time," said Potter. "One of the benefits is members get to interact with each other." Members also meet the concierge and pilot before taking off, which adds to the customized experience SurfAir has built its reputation on. And though the company was initially founded with business travel in mind, Potter said he's noticed a trend over the last few years. "What we've seen over the years, over the winter and summer, is a leisure aspect to our business," said Potter. "People like to fly to Truckee during the week and on the weekends." SurfAir began offering flights to Truckee in 2014, and have grown significantly since then. "We started out just flying from San Carlos to Truckee," said Potter. SurfAir now offers flights from three Bay Area locations to Truckee. And though Truckee-Tahoe service began as seven roundtrip flights a week from the Bay, the company now offers 20 weekly round trips as well as an additional summer offering of five weekend round trips—and that's just between the Bay Area and Truckee. SurfAir has increased its number of planes from three to 12 since the business started, and their membership base has grown from 150 members to more than 3,000. Potter said that Truckee is a successful yet unique market for the company. That's because while SurfAir's membership base consists of a lot of professionals who travel for work, those who fly into Truckee are also interested in taking trips for leisure. He said that about half of the company's business comes from corporate memberships, and that those agreements are tailor-made to fit the other company's travel needs. "So many companies have different needs," he said. "We're very fortunate that we can customize."

Care Flight finds permanent home in Truckee

TRUCKEE – The couch-surfing days are over for the Care Flight helicopter crew based at the Truckee Tahoe Airport. After nine years of bouncing from one host to another without a permanent home, operators finally have a place to call their own for good. “Through surveys, we knew the community valued the service provided by Care Flight,” said Airport Manager Kevin Smith at a Thursday afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Care Flight facility. “Over and over, the community identified them as a priority. It was important to find them a comfortable and convenient place to stay.” Care Flight, a helicopter emergency medical transport service, has been operating in the area since 2003. For the first three years, the Truckee base was a 12-hours-a-day operation. During this phase, the Truckee Fire Protection District and Calfire, (then known as CDF) shared their living space with Care Flight. The helicopter crew, like firefighters, works on stand-by duty. “We were incredibly welcomed,” said Lead Pilot Andy Peek, who has been stationed at the Truckee base since its inception. “They think of us as them and, you know, we buttered them up.” But in 2006, when Care Flight increased operations to provide 24-hour coverage out of Truckee, the helicopter crew was no longer willing to impose on their hosts. So they moved into a couple of fifth-wheel travel-trailers for a summer, rented a semi-permanent space for a while and even briefly occupied the second floor of Truckee Town Hall, where, they say, they kept a low profile and did not attend Town Council meetings. “We did everything we could. Everywhere we just made it work,” said Peek. “It’s been a wild ride.” The communal efforts over the years to make room for and house the helicopter crew did not escape the notice of Care Flight spokesman Kurt Althof. “It shows how the community values medivac,” he said. The new location – 12111 Chandelle Way in Truckee – will cut call response time by three to four minutes, Althof said. “If your loved one is in need,” said Althof, “those minutes will be critical.” Peek agrees. From the windows of his room, he can not only keep an eye on the Eurocopter AS350 B3 parked outside, he can also see both Brockway and Donner summits. The vista is as practical as it is pretty; it allows Peek to check the current weather conditions with a glance. “In some places we’ve stayed,” he explained, “we had to go for a walk.” Althof and Peek credit Airport Manager Kevin Smith with pushing the new facility through to completion. Smith oversaw the $45,000 remodel of the building that now houses the crew. The building had been used for many purposes, Smith said. In order for it to be functional and comfortable, it needed a kitchen and an extra bedroom. The airport will recoup the cost of the remodel through monthly rent, which Care Flight pays at a rate of $2,400 a month. “Smith came in and said ‘Let’s get this done,’” said Althof.

Will commercial service return to Lake Tahoe Airport? Not likely

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's recently updated regional transportation plan is filled with hundreds of multi-modal transit projects involving buses, bikes, trails and more. But one South Shore asset was not included: the Lake Tahoe Airport. Since the airport first opened in 1959, 12 airlines have provided scheduled passenger service to South Lake Tahoe. But with rising fuel costs, decreased demand and the implementation of stricter noise restrictions, one by one the airlines dropped off. The Lake Tahoe Airport saw its last commercial flight in 2000, and in 2015, the South Lake Tahoe City Council unanimously agreed to give up its FAA certificate allowing commercial service. "Economically, nobody could make it work," said Mayor Austin Sass. The airport is now used for private air travel, emergency services and as a City Hall — though this doesn't necessarily mean the door is closed forever on commercial services. At the Feb. 22 TRPA board meeting where the transportation plan was first presented, Sass asked if the airport was taken into consideration. Nick Haven, TRPA's long range planning and transportation division manager, noted that the city would first need to reestablish its FAA certificate for the airport to become a viable option. "But I think as we look out with the completion of I-580, the proximity to the Reno airport, and the increased flights in Sacramento, that's really where we're seeing the volume of our visitors coming into," said Haven. "So, we're focused on providing shuttle services there, and if that dynamic changes with the commercial service at the South Lake Tahoe airport, then we would definitely take that into consideration." So what exactly would it take to reopen Lake Tahoe Airport to commercial service? A whole lot of funding. "The airport terminal has been completely remodeled to be a city hall and restaurant, so the airport would need to remodeled back to an airport terminal, which would be very expensive," said airport manager Mark Gibbs. "We would need to meet the TSA requirements, we would need baggage claim, a hold room, ticketing. We don't have any of that anymore." The city would also need to hire more staff, acquire airport-specific firefighting equipment and reopen the air traffic tower. "What I know about the airline industry — and I came from another small airport that was fighting to hold onto its airline service — is that the likelihood of one coming to this market and saying we want to start service here is probably zero," said Gibbs. But it is still possible for a small regional air carrier — which is exempt from TSA requirements — to operate out of the airport. "If we were to have any scheduled service whatsoever, it would probably look at lot like Truckee Tahoe Airport," noted Gibbs. Surf Air flies to 12 destinations across California, including Truckee, and employs a membership program, which costs $1,950 per month for unlimited flights. "They have to have nine seats or less. These are really small propeller aircrafts," said Gibbs. Other resort markets, particularly Colorado, have turned to airline guarantee programs, which promise certain revenue per flight and make up the difference if this number is not met. In Telluride, local lodging and restaurant taxes fund the program. "You used to be able to get from South Lake Tahoe to San Diego, L.A. and San Francisco in under an hour," recalled Sass. "Those of us that remember that loved that service." But for now, that luxury is not in the cards.

Travel: Six ways to get to Lake Tahoe without a car

With traffic issues at the forefront of community discussions in Lake Tahoe, agencies like the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Tahoe Transportation District are working to find ways to get visitors (and locals) out of their cars and into public transit. Though unique travel solutions like park-and-ride lots outside of the basin and a commuter ferry will be instituted over the next decade, here are six ways that you can get to Lake Tahoe without a car right now. WHEELS UP TO RENO Ditch the car and fly to Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which has more than 120 daily nonstop flights. From there, you can hop on one of two buses — the South Tahoe Airporter or the North Lake Tahoe Express — depending on your destination. These services will drop you off directly at your hotel of choice. COAST INTO SACTOWN Fly into the Sacramento International Airport on one of its 145 nonstop flights and call an on-demand van service like SuperShuttle to take you the remaining two hours into Lake Tahoe. RIDE THE RAIL Hop on the California Zephyr train at the Emeryville Amtrak station (11 miles east of San Francisco) and sit back for a roughly five and a half hour scenic ride to Truckee. Added bonus: You can head on down to the dining car and order something delicious like a grilled black Angus steak, baked potato and a glass of merlot to enjoy on the ride. Once in Truckee, make your way around the basin by bus (check out or Uber. PARTY ON WHEELS Head into the basin in style. Services like Reno Tahoe Limousine will take you from Reno to Lake Tahoe in a stretch limo, or for a larger group book a party bus from Sacramento through Empire Limousine. Three sizes of party buses can accommodate anywhere from 15 to 55 people and include satellite TV with LCD screens, laser lights, dance poles and wet bars. SKI BUS The Bay Area Ski Bus has been shuttling snow enthusiasts to and from Lake Tahoe for 19 years. Board the bus from one of 12 locations throughout the Bay Area between 4 and 5:30 a.m., sleep until 7:30 a.m., enjoy a provided continental breakfast and ski movie, ski from 9 – 4 p.m., have an après ski drink or two, then head back to the Bay at 4:30 p.m. Buses go to Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Heavenly Mountain Resort, Squaw Valley Ski Resort, Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Northstar California Resort. Greyhound, AMTRAK and Megabus also offer bus transit to Lake Tahoe from a number of cities. SWANKY AIRCRAFTS Surf Air is a membership-based airline that charges a monthly fee of $1,950 for unlimited flights to 12 California destination, including Truckee. Truckee-based Mountain Lion Aircraft also offers on-demand charter service. The Lake Tahoe Airport in South Lake Tahoe is not open to scheduled commercial flights, but can accommodate private aircrafts. Providers like Air Charter Service will arrange private flights to the South Shore.

Soaring the Sierra

TRUCKEE – The whir of a plane taking off nearly drowns out Steve Ascher’s voice outside the office of Soar Truckee, the Truckee-based Glider Port off Martis Creek Dam Road. He is talking about his full-time profession, flying gliders. Ascher is an instructor and ride pilot for Soar Truckee, a glider operation located off Martis Creek Dam Road in Truckee. “Many people say that the skill of flying is more honed by flying gliders,” Ascher said. According to Ascher, you have to be more tuned in to the environment when flying a glider than when flying a motored plane. Principally, a glider depends entirely on the wind and air around it to fly. While a motored plane tows the glider off the ground and up into the air, a skilled glider pilot doesn’t need much tow to be able to fly great distances. According to Ascher, a skilled pilot only needs to be towed up to about 1,500 feet; from there he or she can climb as high as 18,000 feet (the legal limit for gliders) using nothing more than natural forces. Gliders rely on what are called thermals to climb higher in the atmosphere. A thermal is heated air, which rises upward. By the same principal that a circling eagle can climb up without flapping its wings, a glider can gain altitude simply by circling in a thermal. Piloting a glider also has fewer regulations than a motored plane. Pilots can fly gliders solo at age 14 and get a license at age 16. Training can start as early as age 12. The progression is fairly simple: about 25-35 flights with an instructor must proceed flying solo. After that a pilot must do about 10 flights solo and take a written and oral test with a Federal Aviation Association (FAA) examiner and fly a check ride before getting a license, which allows a pilot to carry a passenger. Of course, carrying passengers for hire requires a commercial license. “It’s something you can do in a summer if you’re regular about training,” Ascher said. According to Ascher, Soar Truckee is one of the best places in the country, if not the world, for flying gliders. Because of the high elevation mountainous terrain, which butts up against the warm desert and the dry air, the thermals are incredible. In addition, the Sierra is one of the world’s best generators of mountain waves. Mountain wave is air being pushed over a mountain range and creating the same effect that rushing river water has going over a large boulder. The same way a kayaker can surf back and forth on these rapids, glider pilots can surf this air up and down a mountain range. While most pilots stay local, many also fly cross-country. According to Ascher, a glider taking off from Truckee can go as far as 700 miles away on a good day. The limiting factor for these long distance flights is the length of the day. When the sun goes down the thermals die and long distance cannot be covered. Because of this pilots must plan ahead. According to Ascher, pilots should always have a landing spot within range. Ideally landing spots are airports. However, sometimes gliders will be forced to land in fields or, as was the case last week with a pilot out of Minden landing in Tahoe City, golf courses. While some people might think that flying a plane with a motor would be more fun, Ascher says it falls under the same criteria of sailing versus power boating. “It’s a very satisfying thing to be able to use the wind and the air to your advantage,” Ascher said. “It’s a miraculous thing to be able to fly hundreds of miles and hours with no motor.”

Free flights for kids Saturday at Lake Tahoe Airport

The Truckee Tahoe Chapter 1073 of the Experimental Aircraft Association is coming to the Lake Tahoe Airport on June 6 to offer free airplane rides to the kids of the South Lake Tahoe area. Youth ages 8 to 17 are eligible for the rides, and will need a registration form signed by a parent or guardian. Youth who take the flights are referred to as Young Eagles. Rides will start about 8 a.m. and continue as long as weather permits, or until about noon. The EAA started the Young Eagles program in 1993 with the goal of introducing youth to aviation by giving free airplane rides to one million children by Dec. 17, 2003, the centennial of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight. The EAA surpassed that goal, and has continued the program as a result of its success. Today the EAA has given free airplane rides to nearly 1.5 million kids. The Truckee EAA Chapter has given rides to more than 1,200 children in the past 15 years, in various airplanes such as Cessnas, Pipers and Mooneys. Additional aircraft will be on display at the airport. In addition to the EAA’s free airplane rides, at 8 a.m. the Kiwanis Club of Lake Tahoe will serve a pancake breakfast for a nominal fee. Pre-registration is recommended and can be done at Mountain West Aviation at the airport. For more information call (530) 541-2110. Flights are not restricted to locals, but are also open to our guests visiting the South Lake Tahoe area. Other Young Eagle rides are available at the Truckee Tahoe Airport on the second Saturday of each month, and they will also be available at the Lake Tahoe Airport “Lake of the Sky Air Show” on Aug. 29. For additional information about the Young Eagles program, go to

Kids fly free at Lake Tahoe airport Saturday

Children age 8-17 can fly for free starting at 8 a.m. at the Lake Tahoe Airport courtesy of the Truckee Tahoe Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. All children must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. The mission of this event is to provide young aviators with a free flight experience at Lake Tahoe Airport. As a result of last week’s high winds, the event was postponed. Saturday is the rescheduled date. Free airplane rides are subject to weather, in addition to pilot and aircraft availability. Children are to arrive at the terminal building at Lake Tahoe Airport accompanied by their parents and proceed downstairs to the lower level entrance where registration will take place. Parents are encouraged to view the flight from The Flight Deck Restaurant on the upper level of the terminal building. For additional information, e-mail Charlie White

Body found in wreckage identified as Truckee pilot

TRUCKEE (AP) ” Authorities have positively identified the body of a Truckee pilot found over the weekend in the wreckage of his small plane. Clayton Beck, 37, was reported missing by his wife Wednesday after he failed to return from a flight that afternoon. He had taken off in an experimental plane from Truckee Tahoe Airport at 12:40 p.m. Members of the Civil Air Patrol spotted the wreckage of the plane Saturday, about 25 miles north of Truckee near Sierraville, authorities said. Beck, and his wife, Lisa, have two young sons. He was a fixture in the Truckee skiing community and trained Olympians Johnny Mosely and Shannon Bahkre.

Search continues for missing Truckee pilot

The search for a Truckee pilot missing since flying out of Truckee-Tahoe Airport Wednesday continued into the weekend. Nevada County sheriff’s deputies say 37-year-old Clayton Beck was reported missing by his wife, Lisa Beck, after he failed to return home Thursday. Deputies say the Civil Air Patrol and California Office of Emergency Services are conducting a search in a 90-mile area around the airport. Beck’s single-engine, two-seater RV-6 experimental aircraft is capable of flying 750 miles on a full tank of gas, but deputies say the search is based on his usual flying habits. Beck left the airport for a short flight around the Truckee area. Eight airplanes took part in the search Friday morning after volunteers suspended flights at about 10 p.m. Thursday after trying to locate Beck’s emergency locator beacon, said search coordinator Robert Todd. “We have no clues,” Todd said. “All we know is he took off from Truckee. At this point we’re trying to pick up a signal.” Roger Rintala, a friend of the Beck family, said more resources will be added to the search Saturday. “Everything is gaining momentum in terms of searching instead of losing it,” Rintala said. With the holiday weekend in full swing, Rintala said he’s hopeful that people recreating in the mountains might discover clues regarding Beck’s whereabouts. “This time of year we’ve got a ton of people under the canopy,” he said. “There’s a ground crew ready to go if we find a target.”

Jack McDermott

July 3, 1948 ~ June 30, 2017 Jack McDermott passed away after a battle with ALS on June 30, 2017. He spent his last days surrounded by his loving sons in Huntington Beach, California. Jack was born on July 3, 1948 in Anaheim and was an all American "beach boy". He grew up surfing and spending his days on the beach. Jack was a long time local to South Lake Tahoe, and was loved by all. His contagious laugh and warm smile lit up a room. Jack was a lover to animals of any kind. He also had a passion for boating, the mountains, and his home at South Lake Tahoe. A skilled bartender, working at Nepheles for 30 years, Jack made a name as the NEVER blended drink master. Jack was the father to Sean and Clay McDermott, and stepfather to Danny Duysters. He spent his later years as Grandpa to three beautiful grandchildren and one granddog. To know Jack was to love Jack. He will be forever missed and never forgotten. Please join his family and closest friends for a Celebration of Life on August 4th, 2017 at the Flight Deck Sports Bar & Grill, 1901 Airport Rd. #105, South Lake Tahoe beginning at 3 pm.