(Left to right) Pilots Jonah Hull, Dave Gurney and Chad Lichty work for Reno Flying Service and American Medflight, based out of Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
RENO — When it comes to treating a gunshot wound to the chest, seconds can be mean life or death.
Having just landed from flying a child with cystic fibrosis to a hospital in the Bay Area, nurse Sunny Smith talked Saturday about one such patient. It was in Ely, where Smith often flies as an employee for American Medflight, a small company based on the east side of Reno-Tahoe Inter-national Airport at 485 S. Rock Blvd.
The patient had been shot with a .22-caliber weapon and the bullet nicked his bowel, she said, causing his chest to fill with air and blood — a combination that could have killed him in the time it would have taken to reach a major trauma center traveling on the ground.
“With every beat of his heart blood and air were building up,” she said. “He was like a time bomb waiting to go off.”
This patient reached the emergency room at 5:01 p.m. and a call went to Smith and her crew at 5:15. An hour later the Medflight plane took off with the patient, 50 minutes later it landed in Salt Lake City and 12 minutes later he was in the operating room.
Providing fast, in-transit medical care to save lives requires a maximum use of time. Right now, though, American Medflight and sister company Reno Flight Service are facing an uncertain future. During an open house event on Saturday, pilot Dave Gurney said the companies’ landlord, Sierra Air Center, recently announced it would not be renewing its lease at the Reno airport and will shut down on June 30. With that news, RFS and Medflight now must negotiate directly with airport management for a new lease. Negotiations just started, and the two entities have a long way to go before coming to an agreement, manager Jim Brown said.
The companies’ managers’ first choice is to stay in Reno, Brown said, where they have been since the 1930s. But if an agreement can’t be reached, the companies might have to move to Carson City, where the location, airplane maintenance facilities and staff are not as desirable for American Medflight and Reno Flying Service, which provides repair, flight training and other aviation-related services.
One of the main issues in the negotiation is rent, which Brown said he believes will most certainly go up, it is a matter of how much. When talks started, Brown said the increase in rent was going to be tenfold, but it has come down considerably since then. Chief pilot John Burruel said another issue is support on such things as snow removal. This past winter, Burreul said, Medflight planes were grounded for two days because they couldn’t get the snow removed from the ramp leading from hangar B to the taxiway and runway. Two medical calls were missed because of the snow issue, Burruel said. Medflight handles about 300 fixed-wing (non-helicopter) medical flights a year, largely servicing rural areas of Nevada where residents do not have quick access to more advanced medical facilities. Patients are transported all over the region, from Utah to Washington to the San Francisco area.
“That’s why we get called, because somebody’s probably not going to make it,” Burreul said. “They are instances where people need immediate help getting to a trauma center.”
Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority spokesman Brian Kulpin said on Saturday that a meeting is planned for this week with tenants of Sierra Air and with tenant of Jet West, another fixed-base operator (FBO) at the airport that decided not to renew its lease there and is also closing on June 30. Kulpin said the authority has a request out for bids for a new FBO at the airport to provide competition to Atlantic Aviation, the one remaining FBO at Reno-Tahoe. Whether replacements are found for both Jet West and Sierra Air Center or just one new operator comes in will be determined by demand.
“Is there enough fuel business on the field to have two FBOs or three? ... The market will determine that,” Kulpin said.
Any notions of drastic rent increases are speculation, Kulpin said, adding that the airport authority decided the old hangar facilities warranted offering 20 percent cheaper rent to some of Jet West’s tenants after the company decided not to renew its lease.
While Kulpin said the airport authority, which also runs the Stead airport, may be building more facilities there in the near future, Gurney said moving Reno Flying Service and American Medflight to Stead now is not possible because there is no room for them there. Moving the businesses to Carson City might not only have detrimental effects on the patients transported by Medflight, it would also cut into county and city tax revenue. Gurney said plane owners pay property taxes on their vehicles and the businesses pays taxes on their income. Gurney said a Lear jet that moved from Reno to Carson City was paying $80,000 a year in taxes.
“This is not the time to be forcing businesses to close,” Gurney said.