Council looks at airport funding |

Council looks at airport funding

Michael Schneider

On Tuesday night the City Council agreed in concept, with no motion, to make up a federal shortfall this year in funding for the Lake Tahoe Airport’s control tower.

The Federal Aviation Administration has committed to finance the tower’s weather observations this year totaling $114,000, down from last year’s approximately $200,000. City officials estimate another $24,000 is needed for the tower to continue air traffic control 12 hours a day.

If the council decided not to put city resources into the mix, as the airport is supposed to be self sustaining, the FAA’s $114,000 would have paid for a weather observer eight hours per day who could also perform air traffic control functions.

The city’s match will come from either the 2 percent Transient Occupancy Tax Fund, grants or airport user fees.

The FAA decided to stop investing in the airport’s control tower about two years ago.

Funding was extended until, after completing a cost-benefit analysis in October 1997, the administration again decided to stop federally funding the tower.

The deadline was to be March 1, but, due to lobbying efforts from seven U.S. senators and representatives as well as local officials, it was extended to April 1, with full FAA dollars so the city could ease into partial funding of the tower.

The FAA will still pay for a weather observer eight hours a day through February 1999 and may well commit to returning full federal funding if the city’s efforts to attract commercial airlines are successful.

Currently Vesta Rea and Associates, a firm which specializes in matching airlines with airports, has been contracted by the city to find a commercial provider for the airport.

Vesta Rea-Gaubert has said she hopes to have an airline in place within 10 to 12 months.

To attain this goal, Rea-Gaubert said her firm has finished an assessment of a 1993 marketing plan regarding the airport and submitted what needs to be updated.

Additionally, the firm has been in contact with other resort areas similar to Tahoe regarding what they had to go through to get commercial air service and what they’d do differently.

“We felt they’d be a great resource,” Rea-Gaubert said.

She said the firm’s economist in Washington has taken all this information, as well as information Rea-Gaubert gathered while visiting the South Shore in January, and is developing a marketing plan for the Lake Tahoe Airport.

Rea-Gaubert, whose offices are based in Houston, said she will return to Tahoe in April to present the plan to the city.

Also, Tahoe Air Corporation, a basin-based, start-up airline with a veteran airline management team, has signed an agreement with a San Francisco-based investment bank to raise about $7 million for their commercial service efforts.

The corporation’s local contact, Mark Sando, said he hopes to begin the FAA’s certification process and be flying commercial passengers by the summer from San Francisco and Los Angeles to the Lake Tahoe Airport.

FAA Pubic Affairs Officer Mitch Barker said there is no set time period regarding completion of the certification process. He said it is up to the airline and its diligence as to how long the certification will take.

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