It’s a clear warm day in early September and the construction crew working on the Carson City Airport terminal is hammering away at repairs. A few planes come in for landings while up on the second floor of Stirling Air, Steven Lewis is sitting at his desk with Tim Rowe, the airport manager.
“This local airport is truly an economic engine for the city,” Lewis, Stirling’s president and a former Airport Authority chairman says. But it’s a quiet engine a majority of residents don’t have much interaction with, he admits.
The construction on the terminal is one of the most obvious connections to the community. Over the last decade, the airport has won around $30 million in grants for upgrades, which has generated local construction and technical jobs. The airport, at 670 acres, is among the largest city-owned properties. It has more than 100 tenants who employ hundreds, according to the airport manager. And it’s continuing to play an important role in development of business and future pilots.
For the last fiscal year ended June 30, it generated $679,437.98 in revenue, with most of that coming from personal property taxes on planes the city passes onto the airport authority. The airport posted net income of $163,106.49, according to its financial statements.
But it’s not like Reno/Tahoe International Airport. You don’t catch commercial flights like you do out of Reno/Tahoe. Although there was a time, more than 40 years ago, a small commercial line ran out of Carson taking passengers to San Francisco and Las Vegas.
Certainly, people in dire circumstances come to appreciate the airport’s importance.
“If your wife needs to get to Salt Lake City in the middle of the night for a liver transplant, they come to the airport,” Lewis said.
Lewis is himself a pilot with 10,000 hours of air ambulance flying time. He’s taken people to hospitals in situations like this.
Carson City is a general aviation airport that primarily serves as a base for private aircraft including corporate jets and smaller planes flown by recreational flyers.
Besides the private aircraft, Carson City Airport also offers the opportunity to launch a career.
Carson Aviation Academy, based at the airport, offers programs for people to earn a commercial pilots license. You can also get a general aviation license as well.
It’s a career field that should offer plenty of opportunities in coming years, with a projected need of 1 million pilots by 2031, according to a Boeing Aviation report cited by Carson Aviation Academy.
What makes this airport the third busiest in the state, according to take off and landing statistics, is the government, especially the Nevada Gaming Commission, which is attended by a lot of Las Vegas businessmen and women.
In order to continue to serve the growing community, the airport has had to make some upgrades.
Lewis said the two biggest changes at the airport in the last decade has been the realignment and lengthening of the runway and upgrading the safety systems to allow for Instrument Flight Rules.
IFR allows planes to land in poor weather conditions using electronic guidance systems. Before Carson City upgraded to IFR, pilots couldn’t file flight plans for Carson.
The runway itself was upgraded to a higher standard, allowing for future expansion of services. Lewis explained a 100,000-pound jet can now land there, but it would take further work to provide for regular service of such an operation.
The airport is now reconstructing its north apron, including all pavement, two concrete pads to park heavy aircraft, and the access road and gate.
The project awarded to Granite Construction is expected to be completed by mid-November, said Rowe.
The airport received a $2.5 million Federal Aviation Administration grant, which it matched with $166,875.
And this airport also finds opportunities to create revenue when it can. One of the byproducts of the runway extension was the creation of a rock operation that last year brought in $63,314.90 to the airport.
When the runway was extended, a hill was removed and Tim Rowe explained the airport authority, which is the governing body of the airport, was looking to clean up the site where the hill had been.
“We got three bids,” Rowe explained. One would have charged to haul away the stone, another was offering to do it for nothing and the third, which the airport accepted, offered to pay the airport authority for the rock.
They selected Cinderlite Trucking of Carson City, which uses the stone in highway and building projects.
But this deal is only temporary and is expected to end in late 2017, Rowe said. So the future is all about maintaining current business and adding new tenants.
On the industrial front, Rowe said the airport is particularly interested in bringing in more aviation manufacturing to the area. He’s been in talks with a propeller overhaul shop to move to the airport’s facilities. There’s about 100 acres of land available for development, he said.
The region’s economic development head is bullish on the airport’s future.
“It is an essential part of our economic structure within the community,” said Robert Hooper, executive director of the Northern Nevada Development Authority, which covers Carson City and the counties of Churchill, Douglas, Storey and Lyon.
Hooper said this is especially true of industrial operations. Industrial space is maximized in the area and there’s about 2 million square feet of proposals the authority is looking at right now.
As those projects come on line, there will be more activity at the airport.
Existing companies already use the airport regularly, especially operations like Click Bond, a major tenant that has operations all over the world.
He can see the airport continuing to improve to meet higher demand and one day would like to see a small commercial service connecting the state’s capitol to the Bay Area.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” he said.