For a week, Gerlach joins Las Vegas, LAX as busy air destination |

For a week, Gerlach joins Las Vegas, LAX as busy air destination

Rob Sabo

More flights will leave Reno-Tahoe International Airport for Gerlach than Las Vegas today.

Advantage Flight Solutions of Reno, which provides chartered air service to the playa for folks who want avoid a hot drive to Burning Man festivities, begins a 12-flight-a-day schedule to the Black Rock Desert today.

That’s two more flights than are scheduled to Las Vegas from Reno on major airlines on weekdays, and it ranks Gerlach only behind Los Angeles as a destination for flights from Reno.

Dionne Chinn, aviation liaison for Advantage Flight Solutions, says the six-year-old company will ferry about 200 people to Burning Man during the run of the festival.

Advantage Flight Solutions, which specializes in on-demand air charter service, uses a single-engine Cessna Turbo Stationair for Burning Man air travel. The prop plane normally holds five passengers, but it is reconfigured for Burning Man to hold three passengers and their camping gear and costumes. The company has restrictions on total weight per passenger because of the risks involved in landing directly on the playa despite a landing strip that is manicured for the incoming aircraft.

The first flight leaves at 6 a.m. today as Advantage Flight Solutions will cover the route to the Black Rock Desert for eight straight days its fifth year of making the run. The company employs two full time and three contract pilots.

“Other than an extremely long day for the pilots, they love it,” Chinn says. “They get to see a lot of characters and see lot of cool people from all over the world. And it’s a great view coming in.”

Clientele is mixed, but women who fly in to meet boyfriends who make the drive through the desert account for many of the customers, Chinn says.

Oftentimes Burners try to book return flights while they’re still on the playa one-way flights start at $269 but Advantage Flight Solutions can only take on additional travelers if its plane can accommodate the extra weight.

“We pretty much pack each flight,” Chinn says. “We cap weight as to what each person can bring so that everybody can bring what they need but we can still safely take off and land on the playa. It’s not easy, and the pilots have to really know what they are doing and have the proper weights.”

Chinn says revenue at Advantage Flight Solutions is up this year over 2009 figures, and the heavy volume of chartered flights to the counter-culture event always boosts third-quarter revenues.

The charter flights are only a small part of the effect of Burning Man on the air traffic through Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

Brian Kulpin, a spokesman for the airport, says carriers will bring an estimated 15,000 air travelers from 34 nations to Reno for Burning Man a number that’s topped only by the Safari Club Convention and volleyball festival.

“We also have a Burning Man art display in our terminal this month and a Burning Man welcome center that helps guide Burners to local businesses and transportation to the playa,” Kulpin says.