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Air travel on rise in Lake Tahoe region

Lake Tahoe Airport in South Lake Tahoe in 2017.
Dylan Silver / Tribune file

After months of being stuck in their homes, people are venturing out to travel again.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport has been seeing an incremental increase in passengers departing from the airport.

In mid-April, the airport had 220 passengers depart. In the first weeks of July, they’ve been seeing a little over 2,000 on 21 departing flights.

Even though the airport is seeing an increase, they are nowhere near normal, according to Brian Kulpin, vice president of marketing and public affairs for Reno-Tahoe International, in a normal year, the airport would see about 130 total flights.

Still, they are above the national average for other departing flights from other airports.

Flight destinations are still limited. They aren’t flying to COVID-19 hotspots, such as New York, Kulpin said. While they’ve seen flights come in from the east, as far as Denver, most of the flights are on the west coast.

The airport launched their latest marketing campaign, “We Move You, Safely.”

Kulpin said Reno-Tahoe already has a reputation for cleanliness but they are going above and beyond to keep people safe. They’ve implemented mask requirements for passengers and staff, placed 1,000 social distancing stickers, put in-hand sanitizing stations and businesses in the airport and have put up plexiglass at the registers.

“We are working closely with TSA and the airlines to keep people safe,” Kuplin said.

Smaller airports in the area that cater to private planes haven’t experienced the same hit.

Traffic at Minden-Tahoe Airport has been steady.

Airport manager Chris Johnson said there was an increase in corporate jets but private pilot flights remained the same.

“What better way to socially distance than being 5,000 feet above the ground,” Johnson said.

Lake Tahoe Airport took a hit from March-May but saw an increase in June.

They saw a 31% increase in aircraft landings from June 2019 to June 2020 and 10.3% increase in fuel gallons sold.

Airport manager Mark Gibbs said the increase coincided with California and Nevada moving through reopening, especially casinos and hotels reopening in Nevada.

Gibbs said they are seeing a lot of arrivals from cities farther away such as Chicago and Philadelphia. His guess is that people who own private planes normally vacation in places like the Bahamas but can’t because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Lake Tahoe is benefitting from being open,” Gibbs said.

Truckee Tahoe Airport saw the same kind of dip as Lake Tahoe in the early months of COVID-19. Although Marc Lamb, aviation and community services manager for Truckee said it’s hard to gauge because weather also impacted them.

They also saw a bump in June. “At first, people were hunkering down where they were,” Lamb said. “There are alot of second homes here and now people are realizing that they can work remotely.”


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