State aims to squeeze savings on flights

CARSON CITY -- State officials are trying to find a way to save money on thousands of commercial flights that state workers take annually between both ends of Nevada on official business.

Nevada purchased 31,460 Southwest Airlines flights between Reno and Las Vegas for a total of $3.1 million in 2007, said Kimberlee Tarter, state deputy purchasing administrator.

"We want carriers to tell us what they could do" as far as charter service, Tarter told the Nevada Appeal. "All we're really trying to do is determine whether this is a feasible option for the state."

The state also considered the proposal six or seven years ago, officials said. At the time, the state had a contract with Southwest providing $100 roundtrip fares between Reno and Las Vegas.

Since then, Southwest declined to renew the contract while fuel costs are pushing roundtrip fares as high as $250 between the two cities.

Southwest flights, especially early morning and late afternoon flights to and from Reno-Tahoe International Airport, are packed with state workers.

Officials also are considering the possibility of originating flights from Carson City or Minden if a charter contract is signed. Tarter said there are potential savings from state workers not having to drive to and from Reno.

"It's a long way off before an actual contract could be developed," she said, adding factors such as insurance, rental car availability, security and flight schedules must be resolved.

With a capacity of 10 passengers, a Cessna Citation operated by the Nevada Department of Transportation can't handle the state's needs.

Robert Chisel, deputy director of NDOT, said the aircraft was in use nearly every weekday last year, logging 447 hours of flight time.