Airports scramble to fill Reno-Elko flight route

The needs of business travelers from medicine to mining are a priority as airport officials in Reno and Elko work hard to restore direct flights between the two cities.

Las Vegas-based Scenic Airlines last month halted flights on the route last month as it refocused its service on Grand Canyon tours.

That left business travelers between Reno and Elko two choices: Either make a four-hour drive or take the long way by air, changing planes at Las Vegas or Salt Lake City.

About 750 passengers a month made the roundtrip.

Trent Moyers, director of the Elko Regional Airport, said those business travelers include a number of specialty physicians from Reno who meet with patients in Elko on a regular basis maybe conducting office hours one day a week.

The booming mining industry of northeastern Nevada also generates business traffic between the mines of the Elko area and the mineral labs and corporate offices of Reno and Sparks.

The consistency of that traffic, as well as the fact that business travelers are less price-sensitive than tourists, is an important sales point for airport officials.

"Because of their business needs, they're willing to pay for the convenience," says Brian Pratte, air service manager at Reno/Tahoe International Airport.

The passenger numbers on the Reno-Elko route suggest that a carrier might make money using 19-seat planes, says Moyers. Scenic was flying 19-seat Beech 1900D aircraft on the route, and its two flights each weekday were about half full.

Pratte notes that airport officials not only must find an airline interested in serving the route, but also one that has the right-sized aircraft available.

Both Moyers and Pratte are working the phones, talking with old friends in the airline business and trying to interest newcomers as well in the opportunities of the northern Nevada route.

The challenge, Pratte says, is finding a way to fit the Reno-Elko service into the existing strategic approach of a regional air carrier.

Ideally, Moyers says, airport executives would like to find a carrier with a code-sharing arrangement with a major airline. That would allow passengers, for instance, to check bags only once as they travel anywhere in the world from Elko.

Scenic, which is based at North Las Vegas Airport, didn't have a code-share arrangement. It uses a shuttle to get passengers from McCarran International Airport at Las Vegas to its North Las Vegas hub.

Air carriers studying the northern Nevada route want to undertake some serious crunching of passenger numbers before they make a commitment a process that's going to take time.

"The corridor between Elko and Reno is going to be unserved for a while," he says.

The Elko airport official says the cooperative work with Reno/Tahoe International executives is important to the smaller city.

"Reno has a larger wheel to squeak," Moyers says.

Business groups in Elko also are ready to throw their muscle into the effort to restore air service on the Reno-Elko route.

Says Elaine Barkdull, executive director of the Elko County Economic Diversification Authority, "ECEDA understands the importance of the airport and air service to our region and will be supportive or assist when the City of Elko requests our help."


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