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State leaders raise profile of Nevada airports as economic drivers

State officials and Nevada’s aviation industry are calling attention to the economic benefits and job opportunities the state’s airports can provide.

In a conference call Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Kate Marshall and leaders with the Nevada Business Aviation Association, the Nevada Airports Association and the Nevada Department of Transportation strategized on raising the profile of the state’s 49 public use airports.

Marshall chairs the Nevada Commission on Tourism and is a member of the board of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the Transportation Board of Directors.

“A message we want to make sure people understand is that Nevada’s airport system is really a statewide asset and the aviation equivalent of our state highway system and includes the commercial airports, McCarran, Reno-Tahoe (international) airports as well as the dozens of general aviation airports that serve our rural communities and the private airports that are used by our military and the private sector,” said Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Nevada Airports Association.

“We are really working on making sure that Nevada’s airports and the aviation industry in general have a role in transforming Nevada’s economy,” Fontaine said. “The thing that we seem to be struggling with is recognition of all of this and, quite frankly, investments in our aviation and airport system so that we can really better serve our state and compete with other states.”

Kurt Haukohl, state aviation manager of the Nevada Department of Transportation, said the state doesn’t invest as heavily in its airport infrastructure as neighboring states.

Most of the money invested in airport infrastructure comes through the airport improvement program administered by the Federal Aviation Administration and funded by taxes on aircraft fuel and airline tickets.

Federal aviation grants for airport improvements come with a requirement for matching funds.

Haukohl said last year, state airports received $49 million in federal grants, with about $19 million going to rural airports across the state and the rest to McCarran and Reno-Tahoe. The state must provide between $900,000 to $1.2 million to provide the necessary matching funds for those grants.

Aviation officials are lobbying to dedicate funds so that airports can support the tourism economy as well as generate economic development through general aviation and the growing drone aircraft industry.

The industry also is hoping to enlist the interest of students through aviation-related STEM Discovery Zones.

STEM studies — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — are encouraged to draw students toward aviation careers and to head off a growing pilot shortage.

A Nevada Business Aviation Association STEM Discovery Zone was staged at the Zappos Tech Summit in January. Others are scheduled June 13 at the Las Vegas Ballpark during a Las Vegas Aviators baseball game, and Sept. 16-20 at the 2020 Reno Air Races at Reno Stead Airport.

About 10,000 people, including 6,500 students, attended last year’s Discovery Zone at the Reno Air Races, according to Tony Logoteta, chief operating officer of the event.

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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