Reno-Tahoe airport served 4.45 million passengers in 2019; growth to continue
RENO, Nev. — In 2019, Reno-Tahoe International Airport served more than 4.45 million passengers — the most its seen since the recession.
The airport capped last year by serving roughly 382,000 passengers in December alone, a 12% jump from the same month a year ago. All told, the uptick represented the 55th straight month of passenger growth.
With the greater Reno-Sparks economy swelling at a rapid rate, those numbers will likely continue to climb as the airport continues on a “bright path of recovery,” says Marily Mora, CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority.
Consider this: from 2008 to 2014, annual passengers at the airport dipped 25%, flattening to a mere 3.3 million in 2014.
“During the recession, we lost about a third of our passengers,” Mora told the NNBW in a mid-January phone interview. “So the last couple of years, we’ve added more airlines, we’ve added more air service, more seats out of here. And the economy is improved in Northern Nevada, so that’s all adding to the growth.”
Overall, RTO’s passenger count has lifted 34% over the past five years.
Mora, who’s served as the RTAA CEO since 2013, helped spearhead the growth by bringing non-stop international service back to the airport in December 2014. With the addition of flights to Guadalajara, Mexico, via Volaris Airlines, the airport had non-stop international service for the first time since 1999.
“That was a huge win, a huge milestone,” Mora said. “We have a large Hispanic population here; many of them come from the people that have friends and family in the area around Guadalajara.”
In all, the airport has added four new airlines over the past five years: Allegiant (2013), Volaris (2014), JetBlue (2015) and Frontier (2017).
Mora pointed to the addition of JetBlue, which flies non-stop to New York and Long Beach, as an especially big milestone, adding: “We had spent 15 years trying to get JetBlue to serve this community.”
In 2020, Mora said Delta Airlines will upgrade its non-stop flights between Reno and Atlanta to a year-round service, with daily flights starting June 4.
In addition, she said Allegiant is increasing its flights to Las Vegas from once a day to twice a day, and Frontier is resuming non-stop seasonal flights between Reno and Denver on May 15.
Though Reno-Tahoe International Airport has blueprinted a master plan to address its growth for the next 20 years, the airport has already faced challenges as the region sees a spike in passengers.
This was perhaps no more apparent than over the 2019 Columbus Day weekend. Due to an overflow of departing passengers, the Reno airport ran out of parking spaces for the first time ever.
“Columbus Day (weekend) surprised us,” Mora said. “We’ve gotten creative on parking because there were some times this year that were not our typical peak times.”
Specifically, Mora said the airport has moved employee parking to nearby Wooster High School and added a partnership with neighboring SureStay Plus Hotel for potential backup parking.
While many airports across the country are seeing transportation network companies outpace parking — meaning, more people are taking Uber or Lyft to terminals rather than parking — Reno-Tahoe International is a different story.
“We’re not seeing that,” Mora said. “We’re still seeing growth in parking.”
With that in mind, an immediate priority of the airport’s 20-year master plan is to expand parking.
Part of that expansion process, Mora said, is building a standalone rental car facility within walking distance of the terminal. Currently, the rental car companies are taking up space in the airport’s short-term parking garage, taking away spots from passengers.
“We need to free up that space to provide spaces for people to park in there,” Mora said.
Further, she said the rental car companies are already “very anxious to grow” at the airport because of the influx of people flying in to visit Lake Tahoe.
“We have a very robust rental car market here because we’re the gateway to Lake Tahoe,” she said. “People are renting vehicles to really enjoy going up to Lake Tahoe for a longer stay and have all of their sports equipment with them.”
NEW LEADERSHIP ON HORIZON
In four months, Mora will begin watching the steady growth of Reno-Tahoe International Airport from a distance.
The longtime member of the RTAA will retire on June 30, 2020, a decision she initially announced in November.
Mora became President/CEO of the authority on July 1, 2013. She previously served as Chief Operating Officer of RTO for 12 years before taking on the role Assistant Director of Aviation at Oakland International Airport in 2011.
“I’ve seen us at our height, and then I saw us through the recession,” Mora told the NNBW this month. “When I came back in 2013, I was really fortunate because the tide had turned and there was a tremendous amount of economic growth here, and that really has gotten reflected in what we’ve seen at the airport.”
According to media reports, the RTAA Board voted Jan. 7 to conduct a national search to replace Mora.
Bryan Wachter of the Retail Association of Nevada said his organization is “very concerned about disruptions to the supply chain.”