Big Truckee airport challenge is managing growth, mitigating noise
TRUCKEE, Calif. — With 2016 being an election year, the Sierra Sun is devoting time each week to conduct interviews with officials and board members who work for the many public districts and government agencies representing Truckee and North Lake Tahoe.
This week, we feature a Q-and-A with Truckee Tahoe Airport District General Manager Kevin Smith:
Sierra Sun: How would you describe the state of the district today?
Smith: Healthy, robust. We have a lot of really good projects going on. There’s the regular facility maintenance projects, but there is also some community initiatives — open space acquisitions, we’ve got a few that we are looking at right now … the Tahoe City Golf Course and heliport that we are doing over there; we’re looking at our air space study … to potentially see how we can alter the approaches and departures that are used at the airport to enhance our noise mitigation programs. The board will also be considering the Hangar 3 project as well as more executive hangars — those are things that are coming up on the horizon.
Financially, the district is in very good condition. Diversifying funding sources the airport receives is something that has been a big focus of ours. The building we’re doing here with Clear Capital is a classic example of revenue diversification, so we’re not dependent on any single source of revenue whether it’s property tax or revenue from fuel sales. We also get federal grants. We’re very active in applying for federal grants through the (Federal Aviation Administration) and other agencies. Primarily we want to be non-reliant on property tax revenue. Less reliant is where we are right now.
Sun: What’s the top one or two biggest challenges the district faces in 2016?
Smith: I think one of the biggest ones that we will be balancing is growth and operations. We find that as the economy improves and as the region sees more visitors, we see more air traffic. One of the challenges we have is how to absorb that traffic — which we have very little ability to control — and not impact the community, to mitigate noise and annoyance concerns.
Another one that we’re looking at right now is we have a lot of projects going on this summer. Our main taxiway is being reconstructed. The jet ramp is going to get reconstructed. There’s a hangar row … that’s getting rebuilt. There’s quite a bit of work going on around the airport. … Our facility maintenance plan stipulate(s) all of those projects. Getting all that done and keeping the airport operationally active is going to be a bit of a challenge. That’s something we’ll be working on through the fall.
Sun: As we embark on the second half of the decade, what improvements do you want to see with the district by 2020?
Smith: I think we want to see a bigger portfolio of products and services that are recognized in the community that people feel there is benefit and value from. You don’t need to be an aviator to know there’s benefit to the airport. The airport provides services whether … it’s the Makerspace (location), air service development or (funding) the (Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District) swimming pool. We want to expand our portfolio of products and services to our constituency.
We feel there’s lots of services that we can provide to our constituency that people may not readily know or consider like the meeting rooms, for instance. Three hundred meetings a year happen here (at the terminal). … We’re very involved in transportation and transit by funding the (Highway) 267 (summer) bus service. … We’re really trying to put our money into places where there’s wide-scale community benefit.
What I would like is to never lose sight of the fact that we want to run a very safe and efficient airport. That’s No. 1; it will always be No. 1, but then expanding our products and services to our constituency. When I say constituency, I know people get bogged down thinking our constituency is pilots; it’s not. It’s everyone that lives within the airport district boundaries, (so) providing services that everyone benefits from.
Sun: How does the district balance the needs of locals, second homeowners and visitors when delivering service?
Smith: Our district does that in a lot of ways. … Providing this (terminal) facility all the way to the ramp and hangars that people can use for events. Other things like the air show, where we get a lot of transient folks and local residents attending that event, so doing more things like that is also attractive to us. … This facility, it’s a community facility funded by community dollars, and so, we want to leverage it and make it useful for those kinds of things.
I think the other part in balancing is the tremendous effort that the airport puts on noise and noise annoyance mitigation. While the airport continues to accept more operations and more continue to come, we also have a very robust pilot outreach program and passenger outreach, (with) different campaigns that we implement such as voluntary curfews that we use with our pilot community to try to minimize the impact of all of that traffic. We have a tremendous respect for our neighbors, and we try to do everything we can to minimize the impact the airport has.
Sun: In this modern era of smartphones and social media how is the district changing how it communicates important information to the community?
Smith: Last year we actually hired a public relations manager (Marc Lamb) and launched various different social media platforms that he usually posts to it every two to three days. I believe we’re on Instagram and Facebook now along with our very robust website that was upgraded last year. We leverage those not just for communications with our community, but also … pilots. In the pilot world everything is becoming automated, and we leverage that to get fly quiet information and safety information into the cockpit through some of the platforms that are out there. It’s a big deal. We spend a lot of time on it.