Sunday, August 27, 2017

Black Rock City Municipal Airport (88NV), Pershing County, Nevada

Burning Man airport emerges in Nevada desert




BLACK ROCK CITY, Nev. -- Volunteers in a matter of days have built what will become one of Nevada's busiest airports -- in the middle of an ancient dry lakebed. 

The airport serves the temporary Black Rock City, the formal name of the weeklong Burning Man gathering that will draw 70,000 people to the desert two hours north of Reno. 

Volunteers each year build the airport and city from scratch, then tear them down at week's end. Formally known as 88NV, the airport has a control tower, landing strip, customs and immigration, and a pirate flag flying above it all. 

During its busiest periods this week, when it serves both Burners arriving by air and scenic flights, the airport will average as many as 800 takeoffs and landings a day. 

"It's the smoothest, easiest landing you could ever have on a background strip," said Jim Collins, a commercially rated pilot who on Saturday was giving free rides. 

The lakebed upon which the airport sits is a fine dust, compacted by wind and water, and only a few weeks ago was covered in standing water. 

"A month ago, this was underwater. It wasn't even drivable," said Dean "Hawk" Siracusa, a commercial pilot who this week is helping coordinate charter flights from the control tower. 

The FAA doesn't directly manage the airport's traffic, and pilots are responsible for announcing their departures and arrivals via radio to any other planes in the area. 

Siracusa said he remembers when only 12 pilots flew their planes onto the playa, when today nearly 100 planes are expected, in addition to the nearly hourly arrivals from Reno and California. 




Burning Man organizers have encouraged attendees to fly in, to help reduce vehicle traffic on the site. Last year, just over 1% of burners surveyed arrived by plane; significantly increasing the number of flights or the size of the aircraft past today's numbers could bring the airport under FAA jurisdiction. 

The largest planes that fly into 88NV are Beechcraft 1900s, which can seat about 20 people and are making charter runs. Most of the planes, however, are small Cessnas flown in by private pilots who hang out at the airport about a mile away from the main Burning Man encampment.

Saturday, ramp workers, baggage handlers and "immigration" officials went about their jobs like their civilian counterparts, albeit with more costumes. 

Collins said the runway's sheer length makes it easy to land and take off -- if you can find it. Aside from a single chevron marking the upwind end, there's not much to distinguish the runway from the rest of the lakebed, especially at 2,000 feet above the ground. The airport only operates during daylight hours. 

"I remember the first time I flew in,  couldn't see the dang thing," Collins said, a story he told only after landing a sightseeing flight Saturday. 

Story and photo gallery ➤ http://www.rgj.com

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