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Reno in the national news
by Harry Spencer
Apr 16, 2011 | 466 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Wednesday, Reno was in the national news for an incident in which an air traffic controller fell asleep on the job at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
On Wednesday, Reno was in the national news for an incident in which an air traffic controller fell asleep on the job at Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
This past Wednesday the Biggest Little City of Reno was all over the national news — unfortunately it was not a salubrious story.

For the fourth time this year, an air traffic controller had fallen asleep at his post and forced an aircraft to land on its own. This time it was at the Reno Tahoe International Airport and the aircraft in question was a medical helicopter with a seriously injured person aboard. The cockpit conversation was replayed constantly on both radio and TV all day Wednesday.

Following the three previous incidents in other parts of the country where a similar situation had occurred, the FAA mandated that there be two air traffic controllers on duty at all times. Strangely enough that order had been subsequently rescinded by the FAA and single operatives in the tower were once again the norm. Reno airport’s head honcho, Krys Bart, was quick to note that fortunately on Wednesday there were no injuries as a result of the incident. While that is true it does not speak well of the current policy of a single person in the tower.

Several years back the late comedian John Candy did a hilarious bit as a burnt-out air traffic controller that went a little nuts as he viewed an inevitable smashup between two images on his radar screen. As it turned out, one of the objects was merely a live fly crawling across the instrument. Candy was ordered to take some time off and embarked on a series of vacation misadventures with his family.

Also, in the airport spot movies many years back, the previously serious actor, Lloyd Bridges, went routinely berserk in an air traffic control tower. When such mass confusion appears in motion pictures it seems hilarious in a slapstick sort of way. Unfortunately, in real life scenarios there are a lot of lives endangered. The Reno incident followed by one day some terrifying footage of one of the world’s largest jetliners clipping the tail of a smaller jet. Once again the word was that something had gone amiss in the control towner in the way the planes had been directed.

Hopefully, the FAA will reconsider its recent moves and return to the two-person mandate in the tower at all times. The extra salary seems a small price to pay to insure the safety of the passengers that glut the airways today.

UNR athletics in a deep hole

A couple of weeks ago the other major daily in the area had a very comprehensive, several page story about the travails of the University of Nevada, Reno athletic department. It began with the news that the AD budget had fallen some $800,000 into the red over the last fiscal year. With projected cuts in state funding for the entire university system, including athletics, it does not bode well for the upcoming sports seasons at UNR. The article noted that attendance figures for both major sports — football and basketball — were down significantly last season. Input from readers and fans alike was included in the article and the major reasons for fan drop-off purportedly were: night football games; changes in football schedules to accommodate TV; television broadcasts in the local market of home games; poor restroom facilities; high concession prices; and rowdy behavior by a number of inebriated fans. All of those were certainly good enough individually to influence longtime fans and supporters of the Wolf Pack to forego attending home games. Lack of adequate and convenient parking was also another major gripe of the former attendees. Several of the comments also criticized the marketing efforts of the university athletic department. That particular issue was supposed to have been resolved several years ago when UNR entered into a marketing agreement with Learfield Sports, which supposedly is one of the premier organizations in that business in the country today. Strangely enough, the dramatic decrease in attendance correlated with that marketing move.

One of the biggest concerns about empty seats at Mackay stadium and in the Lawlor Events Center is the fact that other than the U’s band, very few students attend either venue. With an enrollment topping 15,000, it would seem that at least 50 percent of the students could be lured to attend home contests. Other universities do not seem to have the Nevada problem when it comes to undergrad attendance.

One of the early PR misadventures upon which the Nevada athletic department embarked occurred a couple of years ago when it came up with a plan to “re-seat” Lawlor. Based on the popularity of the Wolf Pack basketball team under the direction of coach Trent Johnson, and, later, coach Mark Fox, the AD issued a plan that would up the prices of season tickets at Lawlor and you could be seated according to a “point” system that was based on the amount of money you contributed to Wolf Pack athletics. In essence, a longtime fan who had a prime seat and who had attended Lawlor games for decades, through seasons thick and thin, could be bumped from that seat by a first-time ticket buyer who had accumulated more points than him simply by writing a large check to the university. That plan was promptly scrapped when a deluge of angry letters and calls from those veteran supporters rained down on the athletic department. The AD employee who crafted the “re-seating” for Lawlor program is no longer at Nevada, but according to the latest list of athletic department employees, there are still some 109 persons on the payroll. Hardly a “skeleton force.”

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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