Airport tower destiny up in the air | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Airport tower destiny up in the air

by Sally J. Taylor

Who is going to be left with the bill for tower operations at the Lake Tahoe Airport? Airport officials have until spring to find an answer.

New Lake Tahoe Airport Manager Richard Jenkins said an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration ends March 31. The FAA now pays about $7,600 per month for a weather observer and the airport pays $5,000 for traffic services. But once an automated weather system is found to be trustworthy, a manned weather observer will be obsolete. The Automated Surface Observing system is already in operation, at no cost to the city. However, its reliability is still being tested.

“The FAA has to be very confident that the data it provides is reliable,” Jenkins said. “Pilots depend on accurate weather data (for safety).”



Jenkins said there is still hope for tower funding from outside sources in the form of the Federal Contract Program. If accepted, the Lake Tahoe Airport could receive partial federal funding. It all depends on the airport’s benefit-cost ratio – a complex formula based on number of flights, type of aircraft, number of passengers, safety, weather, terrain and other factors. In other words, the benefit the airport brings versus the cost of keeping the tower running.

“Likely, they’ll include us in this program,” said Jenkins, who worked with the FAA to bring the program to his former employer, the Ramona Airport – located in Southern California. “They want to include as many small airports as possible.”



A score of 1.0 on the benefit-cost ratio is needed to be considered for full federal funding. In October 1997, the Lake Tahoe Airport received a score of 0.1, during a commercial air service drought.

Airport supporters had hoped flights by Allegiant Air and Tahoe Air would boost the rating into the full-funding level. However, Allegiant stopped flights to Lake Tahoe in October and Tahoe Air suspended flights in December. Jenkins said work continues to bring the airlines back or find another company to land at Lake Tahoe.

“If an airline is looking at this airport, a tower is an important factor for them to consider starting service here,” Jenkins said.

For the Federal Contract Program, the higher an airport’s score, the higher the amount the FAA would pay to maintain the tower.

“It’s unknown what our part of the costs will be,” Jenkins said. “We’ll work with the FAA to be sure they have real numbers to work with. We’ll try and help them get that number as high as possible.”

With or without commercial air service, Jenkins said the tower is an essential part of the airport.

“I think that a lot of people think of the tower as only for commercial service. It improves safety for everyone,” he said.

Whatever the outcome, Jenkins said he hopes to expand general aviation, as well as get another commercial airline at the airport.

“I’m still confident and hopeful. We’re continuing to pursue (commercial service). We’re expending significant energy getting someone here and (Allegiant Air and Tahoe Air) are certainly top candidates,” he added.


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