Race Fans Called Upon to Help Save Reno’s Air Races

After 56 years, the air races at the Reno/Stead Airport are threatened as COVID-19 killed 2020 revenues for the event. Pia Bergqvist

The Reno Air Racing Association, which hosts the annual STIHL National Championship Air Races near Reno, Nevada, is sending out a cry for help to save the iconic event. In addition to several race classes, featuring a range of aircraft types from backcountry taildraggers to military speedsters, the event includes airshow performers, STEM education stations, military and vintage aircraft displays, vendors and much more. RARA announced in a press release that it is looking for donations to enable the event to proceed in 2021.

RARA was forced to cancel this year’s event, citing health concerns driven by the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason. While much of the work had already been done to put the event together, the cancellation resulted in zero revenue. Federal aid and the sale of a hangar helped cover some operating costs and kept the organization from laying off all of the staff, but 75 percent of the employees had to be let go.

The viability of the event had already come into question with continuing cost increases. RARA said insurance premiums increased unexpectedly by $160,000 for the 2019 event, which, as a result, “experienced a significant financial loss” despite good attendance. Insurance costs had already surged as a result of the tragic crash of Galloping Ghost, in which 11 people died and 70 people suffered serious injuries. The crash resulted in stricter maintenance inspections for the race airplanes and reshaping of the race courses to protect the spectators.

It would be a shame to see this unique event end up in the history books. RARA says it needs $500,000 by the end of the year to re-hire critical staff and “begin paying for the ongoing costs necessary to produce the large-scale event whose mission is to celebrate and preserve air racing’s rich history while honoring military and inspiring youth.” Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to help save the air races.

Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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