Official: Airport growth essential |

Official: Airport growth essential

If the Lake Tahoe Airport is going to fly, it requires a major commitment.

That’s the message Airport Manager Rick Jenkins wanted the business community to take away from a meeting of the minds Thursday morning, when a roomful of leaders packed a conference room at the Horizon Casino Resort.

The South Lake Tahoe Chamber-sponsored workshop, titled “What’s Up,” gave him the opportunity to share his long-term vision and wish list for the airport that for years has endured its share of challenges – including dwindling carrier support, jeopardized tower weather observers, strict environmental regulations and a swelling list of maintenance repairs like pavement cracks.

Crunching numbers to illustrate his point, Jenkins urged the group to leave behind the days of using “Band-Aids” to keep up an airport that is operating in the red. The city contributes $300,000 to a million-dollar annual budget also funded by federal grant money.

“My impression of the airport is that it’s been up and down for so many years, people have lost confidence in it,” Jenkins said. “People don’t want to go to an airport if they don’t know if it’s flying.” He was referring to the pull-out of carriers Tahoe Air and Allegiant Air last year. The latter returned in August with its DC-9s for a three-day-a-week schedule.

Though optimistic about the possibilities, Jenkins admitted that maintaining and adding subsidized support for the beleaguered facility remains a “hard sell” for the city since the economic benefits are often perceived as “indirect.”

He wants to form partnerships with purveyors like emergency services’ operators and others that may “share the wealth” of the airport, with Greta Hambsch of the Accommodation Station calling on El Dorado and Douglas county governments to step up to the plate.

The room came alive with an across-the-board exchange of ideas over how much of a commitment the community should make to its airport, with the option of closing the airport still circulating.

One South Lake Tahoe businessman suggested the city should ignore the local airport and zero in on catering to those flying in to international airports in Reno and Sacramento because they’re within a two-hour driving range.

“I don’t feel the success of the community hinges on the success of the airport,” Tyler Cannon of Sprouts said.

Still, the majority in the room expressed a commitment to make the airport more financially viable. To do so, brainstorming ranged from attracting recreational outlets like skydiving and hot-air ballooning services to evaluating a changing demographic of high-end tourists and part-time residents entering the region.

Also, the proposal to increase transient occupancy tax as a method to “jumpstart” the airport was mentioned, but it soon died on the floor in a flurry of dissent.

Jenkins said he’s trying to stay open-minded to “all suggestions,” including those with ideas to replace Tailspin – the on-site airport restaurant that closed a few months ago. No requests for proposals were submitted upon deadline Wednesday.

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