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Reno-Tahoe International Airport Hobbled By COVID-19

An airport passenger drop-off terminal with no people and minimal cars.
Brian Bahouth
The Sierra Nevada Ally
Typically a crowded and bustling area, the passenger drop-off terminal at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Monday, March 30.

Since the first of March, airline passenger volume in the United States has dropped by more than 80 percent. People are still allowed to fly, and freight terminals are busy, but the passenger numbers at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport are down to a trickle and the airport reaches deep into the regional economy.

The main terminal at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport was empty and quiet, except for custodians clad in hooded white bodysuits, blue gloves and masks. Brian Kulpin is a spokesperson for the airport and said this is the quietest it’s been since 9/11 or the Great Recession of 2008.

“And, of course, this has dropped off like a stone. The recession was something that took place over time. This is taking place over a two-week period,” he said.

An airport baggage carousel with no luggage or people standing by.
Credit Brian Bahouth / The Sierra Nevada Ally
The Sierra Nevada Ally
The baggage claim area in the Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Monday, March 30.

Roughly 3,000 people work at the Reno and Stead airports combined. The airfields’ economic magnetism is evident in a 2018 study that shows the airports support nearly 25,000 associated jobs in the region and generate $3.1 billion in total economic impact.

Kulpin said no layoffs are currently planned at the Airport Authority, but the next two years will be impacted.

“We have literally taken a chainsaw to the remaining budget for this fiscal year and to the budget for next fiscal year,” Kulpin explained. “We have really gone after that, to cut as close as we can to the bone.”

The $2 trillion novel coronavirus federal relief package provides roughly $61 billion for grants to help pay aviation industry employee wages, contractors and air carriers. 4.5 million people traveled through the Reno airport in 2019 and even though Reno’s freight terminal is busier than ever, Kulpin said federal loans and air cargo will not make up for the expected loss of passengers in 2020.

KUNR Contributor Brian Bahouth is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Sierra Nevada Ally. To read more on this topic, visit The Sierra Nevada Ally.

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