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On Your Side: Development could push Air Races out of Reno-Stead

(File photo: KRNV)

If you like speed and thrills, the National Championship Air Races are a good place to find them.

"It's a dangerous sport, there's no sport like it," said Brian Kulpin with the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority when asked what it is that draws more than 100,000 people to the Air Races every year.

But the Air Race action could be coming to a halt after 53 years at the Reno-Stead Airport.

News 4 has confirmed the National Championship Air Races have already reached out to other cities, including Las Vegas, in hopes of finding a new home for the event -- and the estimated $91 million in the economic impact it brings.

"That's not what we want to do, but we are doing due diligence with what's going on here," said Tony Logoteta, chief operating officer for the National Championship Air Races.

Logoteta is referring to the increasing likelihood of future development of the vacant land around the Reno-Stead Airport. There is growing concern that developing the land could clash with the fast-paced action.

Logoteta showed us plans, which he says were presented by the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority to the Air Race board last year. Those plans map out commercial and industrial development areas mixed in with the different Air Race courses.

If the plans are approved at some point, planes would no longer be racing over the open desert as they do now, but instead would be much closer to warehouses and business parks.

That came as quite a shock to Air Race organizers.

"When we first saw the plans, my reaction was 'Whoa! I don't know about this,'" Logoteta said.

Air Race staff members say the plans have sparked new questions about how long the Reno-Stead Airport can accommodate the Air Races.

"We don't know for sure," Logoteta admitted.

The Airport Authority, which has jurisdiction over both Reno-Tahoe International and the Reno-Stead airports, says those plans are nothing new. They are part of the city of Reno's master plan, which was adopted in 2010 without a lot of fanfare. But now with a healthy economy, the land around the Reno-Stead Airport is suddenly prime real estate.

Airport spokesman Brian Kulpin says it's a big opportunity for this area.

"We have a great challenge in our community. Development is coming."

Kulpin says the challenge now is to blend future development plans with the Air Race courses so the two can co-exist. But as history has shown, crashes are part of the Air Races.

We asked Kulpin if he's concerned about what would happen if a plane were to go off course with buildings and possibly even employees nearby.

"We have to worry about planes going off course with every race," Kulpin said. "That's why the FAA's involved."

But the FAA declined to provide specific answers for this story. While the agency is charged with approving race course layouts every year, spokesman Ian Gregor told us he is not going to weigh in on "conceptual proposals."

That means this debate will continue until some type of agreement can be reached balancing the need for growth with concerns about safety.

Or, until the National Championship Air Races find another home.

Air Race officials insist if that happens it will be the last resort.

"We don't want to go anywhere," Logoteta said. "We love it here. We love Reno."

We do need to emphasize the development plans that have sparked concern have not been approved by the Reno-Tahoe Airport Board or the Federal Aviation Administration.

But Air Race officials say seeing them is enough to raise real concerns about the future of this event.

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