Private aircraft aid business; tourism gets a major boost |

Private aircraft aid business; tourism gets a major boost

John Seelmeyer

John Howitt, a respiratory therapist and owner of Accellence Home Medical in Reno, says it’s not unusual for a patient in Susanville to call, asking for his help.

“I’ll hop in my plane and go,” says Howitt. “For me, time is everything.”

Howitt is just one of a large group of private pilots in northern Nevada who rely on their aircraft as an important tool in their ability to do business. Nobody has counted, but at least several hundred business owners and managers from Reno to Minden to Elko pilot their own airplanes to make sales calls and keep track of far-flung business opportunities.

Out of the approximately 170 aircraft based at Reno-Tahoe International Airport, about 80 percent are used for business, estimates the Reno-Tahoe Aviation Association, a group of private pilots and aircraft owners.

Rick LaMay, a commercial real estate broker with Grubb & Ellis|NCG in Reno, pilots his own plane as he negotiates deals in Ely, Elko and elsewhere in eastern Nevada.

“Convenience is everything,” he says.

Tom Hegge, vice president of Office Pavilion, oversees the office furnishing company’s locations in Reno and Boise through regular use of his small airplane.

Other airports in the region also are important to business-oriented pilots and passengers on private aircraft.

Bobbi Thompson, manager of Minden-Tahoe Airport, says the facility is strongly focused on recreational users and doesn’t want to become a business-oriented airport.

Even so, she says the airport draws aircraft bringing executives to the nearby Starbucks roasting plant or the hotel casinos at South Lake Tahoe.

At Carson City Airport, which has no scheduled airline service, Manager Tim Rowe says corporate aircraft and privately owned planes stream steadily into the facility particularly during the sessions of the State Legislature.

Important as the availability of general aviation facilities may be to dozens of business owners and managers, the economic impact of private planes visiting the area may be even more significant.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno, about five years ago estimated the total economic impact of general aviation airports in Nevada at $176.6 million a year. (The study didn’t include Reno-Tahoe International or McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which are used by a mix of scheduled airlines and general aviation.)

But at one airport after another, the researchers found that visitors who arrived by private aircraft resulted in the largest economic benefit.

At Carson City Airport, visitors accounted for $8.5 million of the $12 million total economic impact of the facility. At Reno-Stead Airport, they accounted for $3.5 million out of a total impact of $5.1 million not counting the revenues generated by the National Championship Air Races. At Winnemucca Municipal Airport, visitors account for $75 out of every $100 of economic impact linked to the facility.

To come up with those numbers, the researchers estimated visitors’ spending on hotels, restaurants, gaming and rental cars as well as the amounts they spent on fuel and other aircraft services.

At Minden-Tahoe Airport, one of the best spots for soaring in the world, soaring alone accounted for $9.4 million in economic impact, the researchers found.

“It has a pretty big effect, both nationally and internationally,” says Thompson. She notes that development of eco-tourism is among the county’s economic development goals, and soaring is an important part of that sector.

Those numbers may not tell the whole story, the researchers noted.

In some remote corners of Nevada, the availability of facilities for private aviation appear to draw visitors who simply won’t make the trip in any other way.

The extensive use of airports by visitors, Howitt says, creates a compelling argument for steps to create a strong infrastructure for general aviation. While better facilities aid local pilots, improvements are equally important to draw transient aircraft.

And for operators of large airports, Howitt says the fees paid by private aircraft help diversify revenues that otherwise are dependent solely on commercial carriers and their passengers.


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