Minden-Tahoe Airport diversifies revenue stream

MINDEN — Two new businesses recently located at Minden-Tahoe Airport continue to grow and diversify the airport’s customer base — and its revenue stream.

Bristow Academy, which provides commercial helicopter training to foreign military pilots, subleased commercial hangar space at the airport a few months ago. Bristow joins High Sierra Pilots, a local flight club that also provides entry-level fixed-wing flight training, as the newest tenants at the general aviation airport.

Bristow Academy is a natural fit at Minden-Tahoe Airport, says airport manager Bobbi Thompson. Much of the terrain surrounding the airport mirrors terrain found in troubled countries such as Afghanistan, where a lot of military helicopter missions are flown.

“Our environment is very similar, so training people that could eventually be flying in Afghanistan is very valuable,” Thompson says. “There are several other advantages here as well: They have space to store five helicopters; our airport is very friendly for training; and the community is very amenable to supporting their students.”

Thompson has been at the helm of the airport for past seven years. In that time, she says, the general aviation airport that serves as a contract company to Douglas County has added 30 new land leases and houses an additional 188 private aircraft.

“We currently have 24 commercial businesses on the airport,” Thompson says. “There is a waiting list for hangars, and a waiting list for space to build.

“We are very proud of those facts,” Thompson adds. “It all that happened during a recessionary period in an industry that is supposed to be shrinking.”

Thompson said Minden-Tahoe Airport is the only general aviation airport in the state that is totally self-sustaining, include grants and funds from the Federal Aviation Authority. Its revenue is generated from airport leases and other fees. From 2000 to 2016, the airport received $18.8 million in grants from the FAA for facilities maintenance and improvements.

The 1,000-acre airport seeks to expand its commercial hangar and business space to better accommodate new and existing businesses interested in the many benefits of its unique location at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Minden-Tahoe Airport has a bid out for installation of utilities on the east side of the airport and already has taken applications for leases on proposed development of 300,000 square-feet of new commercial space.

Thompson says the new space is crucial not only to derive additional revenue from the airport but to better serve the many business entities that call Minden-Tahoe Airport home.

“We don’t look at it as a revenue driver,” she says. “Obviously it will contribute to our net revenue, but more importantly, we are here to support general aviation, and (an expansion) allows us to continue to support that industry. People can learn to fly, and new business can be here in the community. We don’t have and are not seeking any commercial airline operations.”

Commercial flights may not play a role in the airport’s current revenue stream or future, but private flights remain a big deal for the airport. The airport is a crucial transportation link for executives from companies such as Starbucks, General Electric and many of the advanced manufacturing firms with operations in the Carson Valley who save a great deal of time flying into the small airport rather than flying into Reno-Tahoe International.

Soaring also remains a crucial piece of business for Minden-Tahoe Airport — it accounts for roughly one-third of all flight activity. Of the 422 private aircraft based at Minden-Tahoe Airport, 103 are gliders.

People come from all parts of the globe to experience the unique soaring conditions offered in Northern Nevada. Minden-Tahoe Airport sits in a bowl with mountains on three sides, so in addition to great thermal activity the geography of the region also creates spectacular “wave.” Glider enthusiasts seek out mountain wave soaring destinations — places where stiff winds race across ridgetops to create tremendous lift conditions when it hits stable air on the floor of Carson Valley.

The current soaring records for time aloft, altitude and distance are all held by pilots who flew out of Minden-Tahoe Airport under these conditions, Thompson says.

The proposed expansion to the east side of the airport would greatly benefit the airport’s large soaring community, she adds. Although Minden-Tahoe Airport is one of the top destinations for soaring, the airport has never been set up particularly well to handle glider traffic — gliders have to be towed by ground vehicles across two runways prior to being towed into flight by fixed-wing aircraft.

The new facilities on the east side of the airport would avoid that troublesome aspect of glider flights and lead to increased safety for all airport operations, Thompson says.

Over the past seven years, she notes, the airport has undergone about $13 million in renovations. The airport has roughly 30 miles of asphalt that must meet far more rigorous safety and performance standards than typical roadways. Thompson recently spent time lobbying for increased funding for rural airports in Nevada to help with the airport’s expansion efforts.

“This is a community-owned asset, and we want the community to feel they are contributing whether they fly or not,” she says. “Even though we have continued to grow, we try to always be a good citizen to the community so we are not interfering with their lives and interrupting their days. We have multiple signs around airport asking pilots to fly certain patterns to restrict the amount of flying over residences so we can be respectful of people who live around the airport.”


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