Surf Air could fly to Reno instead to protect fragile environment of Truckee – Tahoe
By Ted Lipien
With yet another Surf Air semi-commercial service to Truckee starting May 23, many Truckee – Tahoe region residents will experience more frequent plane noise and diminishment of their enjoyment of clean environment and quality of life without the vast majority of them needing or being able to afford such luxury private air travel — “executive travel in an executive aircraft,” as described by Justin Hart, Vice President, Member Acquisitions for Surf Air. “You get to bypass the chaos of commercial airlines and hassles of long security checkpoints,” Mr. Hart told local business leaders at a recent meeting in Truckee. “We save our members three to four hours every time they fly,” Mr. Hart added. Surf Air has had regularly scheduled semi-commercial daily flights to Truckee from other California destinations for about a year. The private membership airline will be starting new luxury service to Truckee on May 23 from Burbank, and from Oakland on September 8, 2015, according to an announcement posted on its website.
Read more about Surf Air destinations, including Truckee.
But there is an extra price to pay for such luxury travel that does not come from the pockets of the airline owners or affluent passengers, especially if an airport they are using is located almost in the center of town with loud planes flying low over homes of people who came here to seek a better quality of life in a quiet and pristine environment. Jets and other planes also fly over lakes and hiking trails. The average Surf Air member makes between $200,000 and $400,000 per year, according to Mr. Hart. The vast majority of Truckee residents don’t make that kind of money. They can’t afford to use the Truckee airport for air travel, but they are paying nevertheless for such travel by those who are much more better off than they are.
The irony is that that local, mostly middle class, residents give the Truckee Tahoe Airport District approximately $4.3 million in annual property tax subsidy with an understanding that large part of it will be used to mitigate the environmental impact. (Most may not even be aware that such a subsidy exists.) The Truckee Tahoe Airport District is sometimes using this public tax money to acquire open space near the airport and on other noise mitigation measures, but the Airport is also spending taxpayers’ dollars on such things as solicited donations to the local Chamber of Commerce and for building of a swimming pool in Truckee. The swimming pool is a worthwhile project in itself, but it is not related to aviation, other than the part of the donation used to reinforce the building against plane crashes. It’s important to keep in mind that these donations from the Truckee Airport are not private contributions by airport users but come from property tax money paid by local residents. It’s public money being redirected to other uses.
Truckee is one of the most dangerous general aviation airports in the United States because of high altitude, mountainous terrain and weather. At least the swimming pool donation leaves Airport Board supporters of jet travel for the rich less money for constructing taxpayer-subsidized jet hangars, although it appears that they are set on building them no matter what. More jet hangars will facilitate an increase in private jet traffic, noise and pollution in the Truckee Tahoe area. This well-documented and predicted trend, not widely communicated to local residents, will also inevitably lead to lower home values in at least some parts of Truckee, in addition to any other damage to the economy and the environment.
The aviation forecast is for the number of plane operations in Truckee (take offs and landings) to increase from the current number of about 25,000 per year to 33,000 annually in a few years. A large portion of these operations will be by private jets and turboprops. Jets have already surpassed the 15 percent threshold in Truckee, which triggered the 2004 Airport Board resolution on taking measures to discourage jet traffic, but Airport officials have not developed a plan to deal with increasing jet use of the local airport. Airport Board President John Jones who strongly supports building of jet hangars using the local taxpayer subsidy asked that the 2004 Jet Noise resolution be either scrapped or modified, calling it “outdated.” Surf Air uses the Pilatus PC-12, a single-engine turboprop passenger aircraft, which is quite noisy, but other operators, including Jet Suite, increasingly offer air travel to Truckee on private jets which most people find even more disturbing as they fly overhead.
Justin Hart, Vice President, Member Acquisitions for Surf Air, was applauded at the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce Good Morning Truckee event held at the Truckee Tahoe Airport on May 12, 2015.
Kevin Smith, Truckee Tahoe Airport General Manager is also Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman, which highlights close ties between the airport management and the local business community. Many local businesses like the prospect of profits that more semi-commercial air travel to Truckee may bring. It is up to local residents and environmental groups to point out short-term and long-term damage to the quality of life, the environment and ultimately the region’s economy from pursuit of profits through unrestrained development and environmentally irresponsible luxury plane travel. While Mr. Smith spoke about noise mitigation measures and pointed out that air traffic to Truckee is projected to grow, no one in the audience asked any questions about environmental impact and quality of life costs to the community.
Marily Mora, President/CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, who also spoke at the event, pointed out that the Reno airport, which operates without any local tax subsidy, is seeking to expand tourist travel to the region.
The $4.3 million annual local property tax subsidy to the Truckee Airport should be used by the Board of Directors on more aviation-related actions to minimize the negative impact on the quality of life of the District’s residents and to mitigate the damage that Surf Air, which flies turboprops, and other semi-commercial luxury air travel companies, which use private jets, cause to the local environment. Truckee’s future is in ecotourism, not in unrestrained development and unrestrained private jet travel by a few rich individuals. The one-percenters have many other more environment friendly travel options open to them. They can contribute to the local economy without undermining its only basis for benefitting current local residents and any future residents and visitors — a clean, quiet and pristine environment.
Solution: Ask Surf Air owners and the company’s affluent passengers, and especially the Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board of Directors, to be good neighbors. They should work together on encouraging all semi-commercial luxury air travel companies and private jet owners and passengers to use the commercial airport in nearby urban Reno if they absolutely cannot find any other, more eco-friendly, way to travel. Ask them to spare the fragile Truckee Tahoe area their noise and carbon footprint. If they live here, either permanently or as second-home owners and occasional visitors, they will also be doing themselves a big favor.
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