RENO, Nev. — Back in 2013, when Marily Mora became the president and CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport wasn’t living up to the “international” in its name.
Truth is, the airport hadn’t offered non-stop international service since 1999.
Mora endeavored to change that.
And so, as part of what was dubbed “The New Approach” initiative, Mora and the RTAA cleared a runway of red tape — namely, with U.S. Customs and Border Protection — to bring the airport non-stop flights via Volaris airlines to Guadalajara, Mexico, starting in December of 2014.
“I just said, this is the time and place to have service to Mexico,” Mora said, “because we have a growing Hispanic population, and many of those people come from the area around Guadalajara.”
It’s a microcosm of the soaring changes Mora — the Northern Nevada Business Weekly’s 2017 Readers’ Choice “Leaders to Know: High Profile” award winner — has brought to Reno-Tahoe International Airport in the past four and a half years.
Mora, who was previously the chief operating officer at the Reno airport for 12 years, circled back to Reno in 2013 after serving two years as the assistant director of aviation at Oakland International Airport.
“I felt very fortunate to come back as CEO,” said Mora, nestled inside the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority conference room. “Because sometimes you go away from an organization or you go away from a community and you come back and see it in a different light.”
Which led to Mora spearheading the effort to bring flights to Mexico right out of the gate. Since, Mora has also helped the RTAA bring air service to New York in 2015 and flights to Denver this past November.
“Bringing back international service to this airport with Volaris was a huge win,” said Mora, noting that service to Mexico was a venture the RTAA had been working on for more than a decade. “All the struggles we went through to say, we’re not going to take a ‘no’ on getting this international service, that was very important.”
Equally important, Mora said, was working on the airport’s internal culture. With that, the RTAA has a number of committees dedicated to giving employees leadership opportunities.
“We want to have people invest in making this organization a better place to work,” Mora said. “We have an all-time high in terms of people getting promoted within the organization and people going from one department to another. We’ve very focused on succession planning.”
What’s more, Mora said the RTAA is focused on its rejuvenated collaboration with key partners in the community, such as the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority (RSCVA) and the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN).
“The collaboration we’ve really dedicated to air service development didn’t exist in the past,” she said. “And I think everybody is working together so well. That’s what I found coming back (to Reno) after having been gone from this community for two years. I came back to a very different community that really has been supportive of the airport.”
The numbers show as much.
In the past three years, Reno-Tahoe International has added three new airlines, and more than 1,800 additional arriving seats. What’s more, in 2017, the airport reached the 4 million passenger mark, with a growth of 10 percent versus 2016.
In conjunction with the added flights and passengers, Mora said the RTAA is striving to give the customers a first-class experience when they’re inside the Reno-Tahoe International. A recent addition to the airport was its Escape Lounge, a stylish common-use lounge for food, beverages, comfortable seating and connectivity to outlets and free high-speed WiFi.
“I think so many times with airports, the customer experience is kind of lost,” Mora said. “People judge airports by how clean they are, how well-maintained they are. When I travel to other airports, I send pictures back (to the staff) —‘look at this dirty carpet; look at this dirty chair.’
“We’re very fortunate that we have great people who work here and take pride in what they do.”
Mora said Reno-Tahoe International Airport will complete its 20-year master plan in June — further, it’s in the process of developing a strategic plan for the next five years.
“It’s really an opportunity to set the stage for the future,” Mora said. “It’s an exciting time to have the opportunity to be involved in that.”