'Air Nevada' in the works

Courtesy Photo This plane is owned by Visionaire, who last week brought the plane into Carson City Airport to show state officials what the plane could do. The state is exploring a possible shuttle between Carson and Vegas.

Courtesy Photo This plane is owned by Visionaire, who last week brought the plane into Carson City Airport to show state officials what the plane could do. The state is exploring a possible shuttle between Carson and Vegas.

While it's not exactly Air Nevada they have in mind, the state has begun looking into whether it could save money on thousands of trips between Reno and Las Vegas each year by setting up an air service for state workers.

"They're looking at what I'd call a corporate shuttle," said Neil Weaver, the Fixed Base Operator at the Carson Airport. "It's not like a state airline."

Nevada looked at the idea six or seven years ago, according to Purchasing Division Management Analyst Kimberley Perondi.

But the state had a contract with Southwest at the time providing $100 round trips between Reno and Las Vegas and private charters couldn't compete.

Things are different now. Since then, Southwest declined to renew that contract while fuel prices are pushing airfares ever higher, up to $250 per round trip in some cases.

This while the state's need has grown dramatically. In 2007, Deputy Purchasing Administrator Kimberlee Tarter said the state bought 31,460 flights between Reno and Las Vegas for a total of $3,131,691.

In fact, those Southwest flights - especially the early morning and late afternoon flights to and from Reno-Tahoe International Airport - are packed with state workers and officials.

The other option state officials have at their disposal is the twin-jet Cessna Citation operated by the Nevada Department of Transportation. That plane has been described as one of the busiest corporate-sized jets in the West. But with a capacity of 10 passengers, it can't handle the state's needs.

Deputy NDOT Director Robert Chisel said last year the Citation was in the air nearly every weekday last year, logging 447 hours flight time.

In the process, it burned through $242,000 worth of jet fuel and, because it's more than 20 years old, required $176,000 in repairs and maintenance.

"As the plane gets older, it's in more and more for maintenance," said Chisel, explaining that the jet wasn't available for photos this week because it's at a Cessna facility in Sacramento, Calif., for scheduled maintenance.

With all that going on, purchasing officials decided it was time to take another look at whether alternatives such as a charter contract could save the state money and still provide the necessary service.

Tarter said the proposal was deliberately designed to give bidders lots of room to be creative.

"We want carriers to tell us what they could do," she said.

While she says Carson Airport would be a good choice because it would practically eliminate state costs, such as mileage to get state workers to their flight, she said they didn't specify the airport.

"Minden actually has a longer runway because it started out as military," she said. "It was designed for larger planes."

"We basically said you guys tell us what can and can't be done," said Perondi.

Weaver said Carson Airport already hosts the Harrah's Tahoe 50-seat Dornier 328, among other corporate jets, on a regular basis so it can handle the traffic.

He said that is the same model plane Visionaire brought to Carson this past week to show purchasing officials what it could do.

"It's quiet, efficient and it holds 50 passengers," he said.

Tarter said the purchasing division is willing to consider all offers from established carriers.

"It's really just testing the waters. We have not limited the flights to just Reno and Las Vegas. We were very open in our request to let these vendors search the market. All we're really trying to do is determine whether this is a feasible option for the state."

Weaver said he thinks it would work for the state because of fuel and other costs. He also said the Carson Airport could handle it.

He added the proposal wouldn't make Carson Airport into a commercial airfield or require a huge investment. He said the field already meets the Federal Aviation Administration qualifications.

In case someone suggests otherwise, he said, it wouldn't be a huge boon for him as fixed base operator, since any carrier would gas up in Las Vegas where the jet fuel prices are significantly less than he must charge.

"We'd get some landing fees but that's about it."

Tarter said the purchasing department plans to review the proposals it receives to decide whether it's worth moving toward an actual contract. She said there are potential savings from state workers not having to drive to and from Reno as well as potential time savings.

But she said a lot of other issues must also be resolved, such as insurance, the availability of motor pool vehicles at Carson Airport, rental car availability, security, flight schedules.

"It's a long way off before an actual contract could be developed," she said.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.


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