South Lake Tahoe city council OKs final airport design |

South Lake Tahoe city council OKs final airport design

Jack Barnwell
South Lake Tahoe city council selected the final design plan for Lake Tahoe Airport as part of a master plan dictating the facility's use over the next 20 years.
Jack Barnwell / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — After three years of outreach and deliberation, South Lake Tahoe landed on a final design plan Tuesday, Oct. 27, for Lake Tahoe Airport upgrades. The proposed plan is meant to benefit future city development. City council and staff have worked on this project for the last three years.

The design, part of a $350,000 Federal Aviation Administration-funded master airport plan, allows for flexible land use. The design is only one component of the larger master plan, which has not been approved yet.

“The master plan is a 20-year plan to accommodate long-term demand at Lake Tahoe Airport,” said Michael Hotaling from C&S Companies, a city consultant, during the Tuesday meeting.

The city contracted C&S Companies three years ago to spearhead master plan research, which included community outreach.

Final recommendations include reserving most of the surrounding land for non-airport use (like storage opportunities for outside industry) along with improving airport infrastructure and safety (like making changes to the airport’s taxiways).

The city purchased the airport in 1983 from El Dorado County for $1. The airport itself was developed in 1959, just ahead of the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley.

All land surrounding the airport is currently designated for aviation-related use only. With plans to redesignate some of the land for mixed use, Hotaling said the city doesn’t need to do anything until the master plan is finalized.

Future considerations

Mayor Hal Cole noted that the terrain for future aviation-related use north of the airport isn’t suited for building airport-related structures, like hangers.

“The slope of the area is just too steep for any type of aviation use,” Cole said.

Instead, councilwoman Wendy David suggested the area could be used for things like a potential event center.

According to Cole, land to the south of the airport, already recommended by C&S Companies for non-aeronautical use, could be developed with light-industrial buildings (like warehouses).

“It would certainly help the city’s bottom line if we could start using the area for some revenue-generating activities,” Cole said.

According to Sherry Miller, the airport director, any land released for non-aeronautical use would still remain part of the airport. Revenue generated from its use would go directly to the airport’s budget.

The FAA predicts a modest 1.17 percent demand in growth for Lake Tahoe Airport over the next 20 years. That means going from an average of 2.7 flights per hour to 3.1 flights per hour.

Hotaling said a return of a commercial airline service to South Lake Tahoe isn’t likely unless a substantial subsidy, or outside financial support, becomes available.

The city recognized this fact when it released its certificate for commercial service in 2014. The last commercial carrier, Allegiant Air, pulled out in 2000.

“That doesn’t mean the city can’t get the certificate back in the future, but it does save a significant amount of money going forward,” Hotaling said.

Next steps

To finalize the master plan the city needs to complete airport designs, publish a final draft report, conduct an environmental analysis and submit it to the FAA for approval.

Since the Federal Aviation Administration funds the majority of the design, it gets final say. FAA requirements include upgraded safety, much different from the 1992 standards the airport operates under currently.

Nancy Kerry, city manager, said the city would need to accept bids to conduct the environmental analysis.

“It will be a substantial investment on the city’s part,” she said.

Hotaling expects the FAA to begin its master-plan review in late 2016, after the city adopts the master plan.

For more information about the entire airport master plan, visit

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