Aid sought for boost in air service

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RENO — Tourism industry and airport officials are looking for Northern Nevada businesses to play a bigger role in community-wide efforts to improve air service at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

The Reno-Tahoe Regional Marketing Committee — a coalition of visitor authorities in Reno, Lake Tahoe and Virginia City, major casino/hotel properties in Reno, and the airport — is talking to businesses about becoming members and helping bankroll work to add new routes.

The group, which has spent $8.4 million partnering with the airport and airlines to promote the region, says it’s time businesses step up.

“The corporate community has kind of gotten a pass until now because tourism has always written the checks,” said Chris Baum, president and chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority and chairman of the committee. “Tourism can’t bear the total brunt. We need to give the business community a program to sign up for.”

The idea is that better air service benefits everyone, from the hotels filling rooms to businesses and individuals traveling across country, now making multiple connecting flights.

“Going back East can eat up an entire day,” Baum said. “If you’re a business traveler, time is money.”

The good news, Baum said, is that everyone has their sights set on the same routes: Washington, D.C., New York City and Chicago.

The committee is also looking to expand beyond its original charter of marketing the region. It is studying creating a fund, possibly subsidized by the state, to guarantee flight loads.

The airline industry, which has been undergoing consolidation in recent years, is more than ever focused on the bottom line and long-haul, rather than short-haul, service. Southwest Airlines, for example, recently dropped service from Reno to Oakland, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

“With the merger of American and US Airways, there were several gates in New York and D.C. that these airlines had to give up. Southwest and JetBlue were the benefactors of these opening gates,” said Pat Flynn, executive director of hotel operations and sales at Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Reno. “Since Southwest is not adding planes to their fleet, they are pulling less profitable planes in favor of adding planes in New York and D.C. that have a higher fare and corporate traveler.”

In its five-year plan, released in December, the airport said commercial airlines want flight loads of 80 percent or better. Over the past few years, flight loads in and out of Reno have hovered below and above that mark, reaching 82.2 percent for 2013.

One way to keep the airlines happy, and to retain or add service, is to guarantee load by making up the difference if a flight is undersold. The airport can’t do it due to Federal Aviation Administration restrictions, but a third party or the state can.

It’s important that the committee, as well as the state, continue to promote the area, airport officials say.

“We have to educate the rest of the country about why we have such a great region to fly to,” said Brian Kulpin, vice president of marketing and public affairs at the airport. “When you turn on a TV, you’re bound to see Las Vegas ad or Texas or Utah and you’re not seeing one for Reno-Tahoe.”


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