Airport Reps Lobby for New Service

ELKO – A Senate bill to increase airline service in northern Nevada was met with general approval during a legislative hearing Thursday.
State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, who sponsored Senate Bill 125 along with Assemblyman John Ellison, R-Elko, spoke during the hearing before the Senate’s Committee on Revenue and Economic Development.
The City of Elko has also sponsored the bill, and Elko Regional Airport hopes to re-establish air service to Reno. Elko lost all flights to the western city in 2006.
“We’re trying to reach out to those small hub airports that are being under-served,” Goicoechea said. “… It would not be focused just on the City of Elko. … We would look at any small hub airport.”
The bill would create a Nevada Air Services Development Commission which would receive $1 million a year to fund airline services. The agency receiving the funds, such as a city or county government, would need to provide a 20 percent match.
“It’s a fairly simple bill,” Goicoechea said. “Creating a commission is the real focus.”
He said the proposal would also create new airline destinations to Oakland, and Mammoth Lakes, California; and Boise, Idaho.
However, committee member Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, pointed out that the money for the bill has not be allocated in the state budget.
Airport Director Mark Gibbs said a study found six out of 10 of the top destinations in northern Nevada are west of Elko, and the City’s airport currently only flies east to Salt Lake City.
“If you were to pass this bill, Nevada would gain four new airline destinations, including Elko,” Gibbs said. “ … This would be a win for Elko and the state overall.”
Gibbs said it is estimated that 15,000 to 20,000 passengers would travel to Reno in the first year if air service was re-established. In order for the service to break even, the airline needs 16,000 passengers annually. In the past, Elko averaged 17,800 passengers on its flight to Reno, and Gibbs believes that average will only increase if the flights are re-instated.
“We believe after one year the airline will be economical,” he said.
Gibbs estimated a roundtrip ticket to Reno from Elko would cost about $276. The airport is aiming to keep that price on the lower end to market to people who are currently driving to Reno, he said.
The legislative board heard from several people, including the CEO of Reno-Tahoe International Airport and a representative of Southwest Airlines, who spoke in support of the bill. No one spoke in opposition to the bill during the meeting.
“It’s pretty clear to me this is an important bill for northern Nevada,” said Sen. Marc Roberson, R-Henderson, who chairs the committee.
He said the bill would be part of a senate work session on Tuesday.
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