By the numbers airport is a winner
I took a little time to be sure that what I have to say about our airport is supported by facts and figures and my own experiences in the short time I have been in South Lake Tahoe, since 1989. These facts and figures are available to anyone who is truly interested in the real history of the airport.
In answer to Rochelle Nason’s question: “Does South Lake Tahoe really need an airport?” The answer is “yes.” Quoted here are some facts, figures and history about the airport that Ms. Nason chooses to ignore in her articles because they are facts that lay the blame directly on the League, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the so-called environmentalists who insisted on tying the hands and feet of people who run the airport and the city. Everything at the airport started downhill after 1992 and the Airport Agreement and Master Plan that was shrewdly manipulated by the League and its friends. Until then, the airport was paying its way in many ways.
Here are some facts and figures to contemplate.
The airport is a valuable link to the National Transportation System, as stated by Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and other representatives from the Department of Transportation during the 1997 Presidential Summit. Their reasoning was that the Lake Tahoe Airport, already here and available, was a major part of solving the traffic congestion problem at Lake Tahoe. They were amazed the community was not working together to make the airport a success.
Why would Rochelle and the League constantly be in attack mode against our local airport? Perhaps because solving our pollution and congestion problems would eradicate the need for their venomous attacks on all things human at Lake Tahoe. We know from previous quotes that the League believes tourists are the biggest problem for us. Does that not indicate the League’s ultimate goal is to undermine our economic base? Rochelle, your prejudice shows when you state “affluent” visitors. Most of us refer to them merely as “visitors” – people who wish to visit this great setting.
South Lake Tahoe does really need an airport to serve general aviation. Direct access by both the locally based aircraft owners and visiting business operators cuts VMT (vehicle miles traveled) on a daily basis. The “several small airports within an hour’s drive” are not conveniently located and are often inaccessible during the winter.
There is a safety benefit to having a local airport. Whether it be for helicopter or fixed-wing ambulance service (which needs a runway), quicker fueling for firefighting aircraft, or to minimize the hazard of flying over and into Barton Hospital, it is safer to utilize the Lake Tahoe Airport. How is the airport such a “safety hazard” (fear always works for making extremist points) when there are more people injured or killed on the highways around the basin every year than in all the 43 years the airport has operated?
The dream of commercial air service is a reality, no matter how constrained and difficult it is to obtain and retain airlines. The roadblock has been the Master Plan Settlement Agreement and Access Plan promulgated by the League and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, in cahoots with the Environmental Enforcement Unit of the California Attorney General’s Office. If that is not the case, why is it that the airport was nearly at breakeven, except for 10 percent matching funds for 90 percent FAA airport improvement grants, until the adoption of the Settlement Agreement in 1992? And by the way, those FAA grant funds are exclusively from taxes paid by aircraft owners and operators.
Then when we get air service – such as the professional operation of Allegiant Air – the League and TRPA hassle them over one decibel on the quarterly noise averaging until they are ready to call it quits. As that airline proceeds with financial reorganization, Lake Tahoe is not on their list of proposed routes, at least not until they are able to acquire “quieter” regional jets. Regional jets, if they are not an excellent solution, wouldn’t be ordered and purchased in record numbers by major airlines. Yes, until the reinstitution of regularly scheduled air service, the Lake Tahoe Airport will have difficulty reaching self-sufficiency. However, Rochelle is right with one word about our airport – invest. It would be rare, indeed, for anyone to seriously consider closing down a $50 million facility because of interim higher costs. Also, remember that the airport generates $1.2 million in TOT and sales tax revenues per 100,000 passengers. In 2000, with 21,058 general aviation visitors and 1,596 commercial enplanements, TOT and sales tax generated more than $335,000, about what the city injects at this time.
El Dorado County, although not a contributing party to airport operations, collects approximately $25,000 per year for possessory interest and personal property taxes from hangar tenants, general aviation operators and terminal tenants. That figure was more than $100,000 per year in 1990, when American Airlines and American Eagle both served Lake Tahoe. Douglas County, according to passenger surveys, receives 55 percent of the airport’s visitors, yet contributes no funds to operational expenses. Economic benefit with 22,564 passengers was nearly $14 million. Where can $500,000 per year investment receive a better financial return?
Quoting Ms. Nason again in the Mountain News, “For so many years, the dream of commercial air service has soaked up tax dollars into the airport subsidy and fueled numerous ill-fated ventures.” Yes, thanks to the League and its friends. I don’t know what the ill-fated venture might be. The best informed and most against the airport are those who ignore the reality of why the airport is not self-supporting. Restrictions by adamant purveyors of gloom, who know they are wrong but can’t back off and lose face and their jobs, by admitting it.
South Lake Tahoe Civil Air Patrol
and airport commissioner
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