Allegiant air suspends service to Lake Tahoe |

Allegiant air suspends service to Lake Tahoe

Allegiant Air suspended airline service beginning Thursday night to Lake Tahoe and three other cities.

Blaming the rise in fuel costs, the airline has canceled commercial service on all routes except for Fresno to Las Vegas, its longest running route – which was established in February 1999.

Despite this, the airline is calling its move a suspension of service, and denies bankruptcy.

Maintaining what Allegiant officials said is a strong charter operation, the airline will consider resuming service in the four cities it dropped at a later date.

“We are focusing on operations that are profitable and productive,” said Mark Peterson, director of communications for Allegiant.

But this is not the first time Allegiant has come and gone from the Lake Tahoe Airport. Allegiant provided commercial service for four months in 1999 before pulling out and for four months this year. In the 18 months since Allegiant flew its first commercial flight out of Lake Tahoe, the airline has provided eight months of service.

Whether this will jeopardize negotiations between the city and the Federal Aviation Administration to subsidize air traffic controllers remains to be seen.

“I don’t recall commercial service being used as a bargaining chip in negotiations,” said City Manager David Childs.

The Lake Tahoe Airport has had problems attracting commercial airlines since Federal Aviation Administration deregulation in 1980, which cut subsidies to airlines flying into small airports. As a result, airlines dropped flights to small airports across the nation and chose to concentrate efforts in more lucrative markets.

Another setback was the city’s Airport Master Plan Settlement Agreement in 1992, which restricted such key factors as the number of flights per week, the number of planes that can be based at the airport, noise levels, the number of passengers that can fly per year and parking and expansion, making it unattractive to commercial airlines seeking the ubiquitous bottom line.

The airport, which has been controversial for draining the city budget , will undoubtedly come under renewed criticism as a result of Allegiant’s departure.

Last fiscal year, the city spent $439,000 on the airport.

But others have argued that even without commercial service the airport brings in a substantial amount of tourist dollars to South Shore with traffic from charter and private planes. According to figures derived by Janice Brand, airport management assistant, that figure is about $20 million.

But critics have complained that most of that money has gone to the casinos in Stateline, not to South Lake Tahoe. In response, the city and airport commission decided in July to devise a plan to attract subsidies from Douglas County businesses. Efforts have been unsuccessful.

“We will take a look at our finances and see where we can possibly cut back until a time when we can resume commercial service,” said Carol Drawbaugh, interim airport director.

Although the city will do what it can to attract other commercial airlines, Drawbaugh said that has been a goal of the city for last six or seven years.

Drawbaugh said he anticipates Allegiant will make good on all payments to the city. But the city has a $25,000 performance bond, which it could cash in if Allegiant fails to come through.

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