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Above the clouds

Brook Bentley
bbentley@nnbw.biz
National Championship Air Races in Reno
Mark Benson | Courtesy of RARA |

The Reno Air Races attracted more than 150,000 spectators from around the world last year. Mike Crowell, president and chief executive officer of the Reno Air Racing Association (RARA), indicated the Air Races “are the only one like it in the world and it is truly a unique sport.” In its 53rd year, the races are feeling some pressure to diversify the event and develop more interest with the Millennial generation.

“The 2014 economic value was $70 million for the week, which is quite large,” Crowell said. The five day event means people may stay four nights in a hotel, allowing hotels to adjust their prices during mid September, a time that is relatively quiet for the area.

The breakdown of the regional economic impact for the 2015 Air Races is as follows: $12 million in commercial lodging, $11.4 million in food and drink, $7.5 million in shopping, $11.1 million in entertainment (including shows in Reno), $10 million in transportation and $7 million in gaming. The gaming figure being the lowest of the breakdown indicates that people really come to the area for the event and to watch the Air Races. 2015 initially projected a $630,000 loss for the event, but final numbers for the 2015 National Championship Air Races showed a profit of $100,000.

Due to the serious financial situation for the past 10 to 12 years, a profit for the 2015 Air Races is a step in the right direction. The event really needs to continue to be more profitable in order to keep the Reno Air Races going. Part of the quality entertainment value of the National Championship Air Races is the unique characteristic of closed pylon wing-to-wing racing, making it the only race like it in the world. The RARA is working to reverse the financial struggle the event has been facing.

“…the Air Races “are the only one like it in the world and it is truly a unique sport.”Mike Crowell President and chief executive officer of the RARA

The association is seeking opportunities to diversify the audience beyond people who already eat, drink and breath planes and aviation. One of the ways they are marketing the races this year is with an NBC Sports special, a project done in conjunction with sponsors. The one-hour special aired March 27 and is an incredible opportunity for the event to have national exposure, Crowell explained. RARA also hopes the NBC exposure will result in good sponsor turnout for the event.

The Air Races will have a large-scale drone demonstration at the 2016 event, an effort to bring interest of the Millennial generation as well as broadening the audience. Crowell commented about the extensive clearance process taking place to allow the drones. Nevada is one of six states that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) selected as a site for unmanned aircraft research, so in some ways the large-scale drone demonstration at the Air Races is symbolic for the drone research going on in Nevada.

Finally, for the first time since 2009, the Navy’s Blue Angels will perform at the 2016 National Championship Air Races.

The RARA’s marketing and efforts to pull a broader audience are important to the economic value of the races. But the devastating plane crash in 2011 created another cause for fiscal concern for RARA. In addition to the safety concerns people felt, the event’s insurance premium spiked to $2 million. Safety measures such as a pylon racing school held in June that is now required to qualify for the September Air Races, have brought insurance premiums down to about a third of the peak. Plus RARA temporarily is not providing event clothing to its 1,500-plus volunteer team. Crowell complimented the volunteer staff’s cooperation and their desire to keep the event going for years to come.

RARA works hard to ensure it’s a good guest to the Stead Airport and surrounding community. The association pays the Stead Airport for use of the space and works to provide ample warning and negotiations with pilots who use the airport on a regular basis to cause as little inconvenience as possible the week of the event. The exposure of the airport during the event helps rent hangar space at the airport and RARA has provided items from the Air Races for Stead’s terminal museum. Residents who reside in areas near the pylon course around the airport work with RARA to vacate their homes during the actual fly times, mostly for safety precautions.

The Reno Air Races, like other events in the area, are faced with a need to adjust and change as the northern Nevada region does the same. The National Championship Air Races originated in Cleveland in the 1920s and in 1964 Bill Stead organized an air race near Reno, starting the annual Reno National Championship Air Races. Every September the event includes six racing classes, the most famous being the unlimited. They also show static aircrafts as well as flight demonstrations and this year, as part of their diversification of the event, will show drones and jets. The 2016 Air Races will take place Sept. 14-18. For more information about the Reno National Championship Air Races, visit their website at http://www.airrace.org.

UPDATE

National Aviation Heritage Invitational (NAHI) decided to suspend their 2016 competition

The National Aviation Heritage Invitational, the nation’s premiere vintage aircraft competition, announced it will suspend its 2016 competition and is making plans for its 2017 competition. The competition will not be held this September at Stead Field during the Reno Air Races.

The National Aviation Heritage Invitational has been a prominent feature on the ramp at the Reno Air Races for the past 17 years. During this time, NAHI has hosted nearly 400 of our nation’s finest restored vintage aircraft and been visited by tens of thousands of aviation enthusiasts and race fans.

The 2016 event would have been NAHI’s 18th anniversary at the Reno Air Races and its 22nd overall competition.

Ken Perich, Executive Director stated in a press release; “Due to its resounding acceptance by the aviation community, The National Aviation Heritage Invitational has outgrown the ramp space and resources allocated to it by the Reno Air Races”. Perich went on to explain “NAHI and Pathways to Aviation, formerly known as the Reno Air Racing Foundation, have been working together for several years and have been sharing the same footprint on the Reno ramp. Both organizations have been very successful and grown significantly in recent years and we have literally run out of room on the Reno ramp. We are in discussions with the Reno Air Racing Association and Pathways to Aviation to determine if additional space and support will be made available to NAHI in 2017 and beyond. ”

Susie Reinke, NAHI Operations Director added: “It was a difficult decision to make but we were faced with either severely compromising the mission, scope and 17- year history of the event by significantly reducing the number and types of aircraft we could host on the ramp at Reno, or suspending the competition for this year to explore all potential venues which meet our event criteria.”

Mike Crowell, President and CEO of The Reno Air Racing Association (RARA), made the following statement regarding the National Aviation Heritage Invitational’s decision to suspend the Heritage Trophy competition in 2016:

“The Reno Air Racing Association (RARA) was very disappointed last week to learn of the National Aviation Heritage Invitational’s (NAHI) decision to suspend its 2016 competition at this year’s National Championship Air Races in Reno. The impressive display of vintage aircraft is something our race fans and the schoolchildren who visit the races as part of RARA’s Pathways to Aviation program always enjoy and the display will be missed during this year’s event.

“The National Championship Air Races, however, wishes to be clear – at no time did we indicate that there would not space for NAHI this year. In fact, should they decide to resume this year’s competition, there will be space available.

“While we are disheartened by NAHI’s decision, we look forward to welcoming the Invitational back to Reno in 2017.”


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