Now our air show needs saving

Reno Air Races got $600,000 from government for insurance; should Nellis get help?

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

Less than a year ago, the Nevada Tourism Commission rescued the Reno Air Races from certain cancellation after the show’s insurance premium spiked. The state delivered $600,000 to preserve one of the last air races in the world.

Now, fans of a Southern Nevada air show are hoping for a similar bailout.

Most Southern Nevadans’ only knowledge about the Reno Air Races came in the aftermath of a horrific 2011 crash that killed 11 people and hurt 69. It was the third-worst air show disaster in U.S. history.

As a result, the show’s insurance premium skyrocketed, and organizers complained they couldn’t cover the 500 percent increase. Race Director Mike Houghton was desperate and made the eleventh-hour pitch to the Tourism Commission.

It wasn’t shocking that members voted to rescue the show. The commission is composed primarily of Northern Nevada tourism leaders who know the history of the races and what they mean to the region’s economy.

The five-day event attracts 215,000 people, including 70,000 who travel from out of town. Officials estimate the races have an economic impact of $80 million on Northern Nevada. The state anticipates a $6 million return on its $600,000 investment.

Meanwhile, in Southern Nevada, Aviation Nation, Nellis Air Force Base’s annual display of military aircraft and precision flight teams, has been sequestrated out of existence. The defense budget was cut by $46 billion, forcing organizers to cancel the show.

I dropped an email to Tourism Commission Chairman Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki asking if the commission would do anything to help restore the event, which typically draws more than 100,000 people.

Commission members haven’t deliberated on the matter yet, but Krolicki said the commission should do whatever it can to get Aviation Nation back in the air.

Clearly, the Reno Air Races and Aviation Nation are two different types of events. The Reno Air Races is a nonprofit show; Aviation Nation is a platform for America’s Defense Department. Remove the Reno Air Races from the calendar, and it disrupts a regional economy. Remove Aviation Nation, and it gives Southern Nevadans one less thing to do in November.

The Reno Air Races have to rely on state resources to survive. Aviation Nation could likely be restored with a few signatures on a budget document.

Still, there’s something that just isn’t right about the final outcome for these two shows — and it’s seemingly inevitable that South vs. North sentiments will enter the picture.

The Tourism Commission set a precedent when it voted to save the Reno Air Races. Right or wrong, it is bound to be criticized if Aviation Nation becomes a memory of an event that politicians took away from the public.

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