Military aviation accounts for $700 million in economy
One way a region’s business leaders can quickly assess whether an economic recovery trend is present is to count the number of passenger aircraft takeoff and landings, cargo tonnage moving in and out of an airport, and, of course, the number of passengers who fly.
Almost silent in such assessments is the impact that military aircraft activity can have on a region.
A survey of military activities at three airport facilities in northern Nevada Reno-Tahoe International Airport, the Reno-Stead airfield, and the Naval Air Station in Fallon indicates that during 2010, such activities pumped nearly $700 million into the region’s economy.
Located at the south end of the RTIA passenger terminal is the Nevada Air Guard’s 152nd Airlift Wing, home to eight C-130 cargo military aircraft. When first established in 1948 following World War II, there were 88 airmen assigned to the Reno air guard with a small number of P-51 Mustang fighter planes. Fighter planes remained the nucleus of the air guard until 1996 when the new 152nd Airlift Wing was formed and the C-130s arrived.
The 152nd does not have a high frequency of operations out of the Reno airport, says Maj. April Conway, the Nevada National Guard’s public affairs officer.
“Today, we have about 1,000 guardsmen assigned to the wing on Aviation Way. Most of those guardsmen are traditional one-weekend-a-month, two-weeks-a-year personnel, but we have nearly 300 full-time people who also work there. Many are civilian employees.”
Conway says of the eight military cargo aircraft, five are presently deployed in Afghanistan. The C-130s can accommodate utility helicopters, six-wheeled armored vehicles as well as carry air drop loads of up to 42,000 pounds.
The amount of military air traffic in and out of Reno-Tahoe airport will vary, too. In 2010, total military flight operations totaled 3 percent of all operations from the airport, up from 2.4 percent the previous year.
“Our drill weekends will see more traffic because our pilots will need to work on their proficiency ratings. We also do night flying but it depends upon the time of the month.”
The C-130 is considered a workhorse.
“It is meant for operating under very austere conditions,” says Conway. “We are an air-land, air-drop wing which means we can transport stuff and deliver it out the back on demand. We do a lot of air drops up at Herlong for practice. Because the C-130 has the ability to take off and land on the shortest of runways, it is perfect for emergency operations here in the western U.S.”
Over at the Stead base, the Army National Guard is home to the 991st Troop Command. Under that command is the 1/189th Aviation Company as well as the 1/168th medical evacuation unit. The Army units there have 14 helicopters, including four large double rotor CH-47 Chinooks. The base also has six UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, four OH-58 Kiowa utility helicopters, and just received two of the Army’s newest aircraft, the Lakota UH-72A which is designed to perform a variety of missions, from general support and medical evacuation, to personnel recovery and counterdrug operations.
The Black Hawks and Chinooks have been especially important to the region in wildfire abatement activities.
“Out west, we are kind of an all-hazards region where we can have fires, floods and earthquakes and when we are asked to assist, that is what we do,” Conway says.
“The guard is really quite a bargain in many ways,” says Conway, “because, frankly, we are not paying them when we don’t need them. The guard is different than the active duty military. Our state mission is equally important to our federal mission and, in a state the size of ours, the C-130s make a lot of sense because we use them for natural disasters.”
The economic impact of the Air and Army guard in Reno and Stead is estimated to be nearly $160 million annually and, last year, construction activities at both facilities totaled more than $16 million. Six years ago, the state came close to losing the C-130 aircraft when the base realignment and closure commission list came out that would have moved all eight of the C-130s to Arkansas.
But the northern Nevada community fought back with the help of U.S. Senators John Ensign and Harry Reid, successfully arguing that its loss would degrade the state’s ability to deal with natural disasters and homeland security.
“It would have really inhibited our stated mission,” Conway said.
While the Navy’s facility at Fallon may be more associated with the Top Gun school, Zip Upham, a Navy public affairs director, calls Top Gun “a very small footprint compared to training an entire air wing.”
Says Upham, “We train specifically the planes that will go onto aircraft carriers. Prior to their deployments, those air wings come here to Fallon for four weeks training in much the same comprehensive way that they will perform from the carrier.”
The personnel impact is huge, Upham says, and the base can expect 75 aircraft and at least 2,000 personnel that will need billeting for a month at a time. Considering the base employs only 3,000 people on a daily basis, it is easy to see how the population in and around Fallon can nearly double in size.
“We like to say we have the largest hotel in northern Nevada,” Upham says. “We have 2,100 rooms available on base and, on occasion, we will even fill up the rooms in Fallon itself. When the air wing is here, all the restaurants tend to be full.”
Last year, the air station trained six air wings, but Upham says only two air wings are scheduled for training in 2011. “It’s either feast or famine,” he says. “When the air wings are not here, it’s kind of like Sleepy Hollow.”
Upham says the Navy estimates that the economic impact, direct and indirect, is $570 million for Churchill, Lyon and Washoe counties.
Upham says the base six miles east of Fallon owns 13,000 square miles of air space, but only 4 percent of the land. The rest is Bureau of Land Management public lands. “The ranges are the most important part of the puzzle,” he says, “because when we launch from the base, the aircraft just turns east and you are over the range in minutes. Without the air space to practice and train in, there would be no reason to have this base here.”
The base benefits the area in another way as several major defense contractors are an important linchpin in daily operations, companies such as Sikorsky, L3 Communications and MacAulay Brown. Smaller contractors such as LB&B provide fuel services to the base.
“The tank farm next to the Nugget in Sparks has several tanks dedicated to us and a 6-inch pipeline running from Sparks here to the base,” Upham says. “We go through an average of 30 million gallons of JP8 jet fuel annually.”
The rate effective Jan. 1, 2020, is 1.65 percent of wages paid to employees. That is two-tenths of a percent lower than the current rate, giving a significant break to businesses that pay the tax.