FLYING INTO TAHOE VALLEY AIRPORT NOW THAT THE TOWER IS CLOSED

February
01, 2005
by
BILL SCHROEDER, MCFI

Tahoe Valley Airport, located in South Lake Tahoe, California, at an elevation of 6264 feet msl, is now in operation as a "towerless" airport. In September, 2004, the South Lake Tahoe City Council stated that they did not have the funds to pay the additional money (approximately $200,000.00) to keep tower open. So they voted not to fund the tower operation and on October 1, 2004 the tower operations ceased to exist. The tower had been in operation since 1966 and served not only as a contact for aircraft landing at Tahoe Valley, but also served as a communication contact for aircraft flying in, about and through the Lake Tahoe Basin. It provided a safety to pilots flying through the several passes in and out of the basin, by alerting pilots to the locations of aircraft and advising all aircraft of arrivals and departures into Tahoe Valley.

As the Tahoe Valley Airport sits between two mountains, and does not allow for typical pattern entries, especially the standard 45 degree entry for down wind, the tower cleared aircraft for straight in approaches for Runway 18 and the right downwind approaches for Runway 36, as there is no room to make a 45 degree entry for the right downwind for that runway.

Currently, there are no plans to re-open the tower, although the FAA is leaving their equipment in the tower for a year, just in case the city comes up with the money, or liability issues demand that the tower be re-opened.

As many of the "flight guides" have not been reissued since the tower closure, I wanted to bring everyone up to date on the current procedures for the airport.

As of December 6, 2004, the common traffic advisory frequency has been changed from 118.4 to 122.95. Also, the frequency for pilot controlled lighting changed form 118.4 to 122.95. The ASOS frequency has remained at 124.725 and the LDA frequency has remained at 108.9 although it is now unmonitored.

My advice to pilots flying into Tahoe Valley Airport is to first monitor the ASOS. That will provide weather information needed to determine what runway to use. If you are flying across the lake to traverse either Spooner Summit or Kingsbury Grade, announce your intentions and give your specific location and altitude. Listen for arriving and departing traffic from the airport. During the winter months, especially during the weekdays, there will be little traffic. However, on weekends, especially in the summer, pay good attention to what is happening around your position. Again, be very specific when you announce your location and please announce your altitude so that other pilots in the area can adjust their altitudes if necessary.

If you are landing, announce your intentions and your location on 122.95. If other aircraft are in the airport environment, look for them before beginning you entry into that environment.

For aircraft coming in from the north, plan on a straight in approach to Runway 18 if winds favor that runway. For aircraft coming in from the south or the west, enter a left downwind for Runway 18.

If the winds favor Runway 36, approaches from the north should be made directly into the right downwind. Please, no left downwind approaches for Runway 36 as aircraft departing that runway will have a difficult time observing any aircraft until it is on a short base leg or a short final. All downwind aircraft should remain on the east side of the field so that they can be seen by departing aircraft.

During the summer months, density altitudes can be very high at Tahoe Valley Airport. As there is no tower, listen to the ASOS prior to departure. The ASOS will give pilots the density altitude of the field. Then calculate your aircraft's performance based upon the density altitude. Keep in mind that the ASOS is at the north end of the field. Winds at the south end may be directly opposite those given on the ASOS. The tower used to be able to relay that information to pilots, so check the wind socks at the north and south ends of the field before takeoff.

During winter months, be sure to check NOTAMS prior to making a flight into Tahoe Valley Airport. Due to snow and ice, the runway lengths and widths may be restricted. Also, the ASOS does not report a braking action on the pavement, so check NOTAMS prior to the flight.

Last month, Retired General of the Army Norman Schwarzkopf's aircraft was diverted from Reno due to fog and was on approach for Runway 18 at Tahoe Valley. His aircraft had just crossed over the threshold when a Cessna departed on Runway 36. Both aircraft came within 200 feet of each other as the Cessna crossed over the top of Schwarzkopf's aircraft. A near miss at the airport.

Be careful, announce your position accurately and watch out for other aircraft. Hopefully, the tower will be in operation before summer when the tourist season begins and the airfield becomes very busy.

Bill Schroeder instructs in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area. He holds a Master of Science Degree, ATP-ME, MEL, SEL, CFI and CFII. In addition, he serves as an FAA Aviation Safety Counselor and an Instructor/Check Pilot for the Nevada Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. He can be reached by e-mail at checkpilot@thegrid.net. You can go to his web site at www.flightsafetycounselor.com

© Copyright 2005 Bill Schroeder