Reno airport CEO talks future of region

Reno-Tahoe International Airport President and CEO Daren Griffin speaks at a Chamber of Commerce event in Carson City on Feb. 22, 2023.

Reno-Tahoe International Airport President and CEO Daren Griffin speaks at a Chamber of Commerce event in Carson City on Feb. 22, 2023.

The top executive of the Reno-Tahoe International Airport sees a bright future for Northern Nevada but one that will require a substantial investment in the airport.

“We watch all the growth, and our job is to position ourselves to accommodate everyone’s needs for air travel,” Daren Griffin, CEO and president of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, said in an interview with the Appeal on Feb. 22.

Griffin, who started in Reno in 2020 after years of executive experience in Portland, was in Carson City for a community event co-organized by the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. Talking to the Appeal, he laid out what he sees as the fundamentals of Northern Nevada’s growth: more companies moving in, spurred by Tesla and other tech companies, more jobs, more housing and more travel for both residents and businesses. He emphasized Northern Nevada is known for outdoor spaces like Lake Tahoe as well as indoor spaces such as gaming and lodging establishments.

“We have some really unique, inherent things,” he said.

But growth is already here, he insisted. He pointed to January passenger numbers that show 343,927 people arrived to or departed from RNO last month. It’s the highest January total since 2008, Griffin said.

“This airport has to get a little bigger,” he said, “to meet the needs of not only today’s generation, but the next generation.”

Currently, RNO has three runways, a dozen passenger airlines and more than 20 nonstop destinations. It serves the region well, Griffin said. But as the region continues to change, airport infrastructure needs to keep up. He described the two passenger concourses built circa 1980.

“First, we just need more space,” he said, adding this means for both passengers and larger jets.

The RTAA is entering the design phase for two new concourses that will provide more room and amenities for passengers and offer an additional five gates, for a total of 28 gates. Griffin hopes construction will begin in 2024 and will follow a five-year plan as the old concourses are torn down and replaced, one at a time. The price tag for the project is estimated to be $570 million.

Additionally, the ticketing hall at the front of the main terminal is currently being renovated for about $32 million, Griffin said. A $250 million ground transportation center, primarily for rental cars, is also in the works.

The RTAA is run like a business, and Griffin said funding sources are diverse, from per-ticket infrastructure fees to federal funding programs. The improvements will mean going from being a “no-debt” airport to taking on debt, he said.

“It’s time to invest,” he said.

Griffin said in less than a decade, Carson City residents can expect better parking at the airport, a more spacious ticketing hall, and two new concourses that better incorporate the surrounding beauty of the region while highlighting local food and gaming culture. The goal, he said, is not only to serve regional growth, but for customers to enjoy where they’re at.

“The minute they get off that airplane,” he added.

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