Reno air race organizers get OK to continue event

AP News
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Posted: May 17, 2012 5:31 PM
Reno air race organizers get OK to continue event

Organizers of the Reno National Championship Air Races cleared a major hurdle Thursday in their bid to continue the annual event this fall, winning approval of a special one-year permit and moving closer to securing the necessary $100 million in insurance in the aftermath of last year's tragic mass-casualty crash.

The future of the 48-year-old competition has been in question since a modified World War II-era plane crashed at the event in September, killing the pilot and 10 spectators, and injuring more than 70 others on the ground.

The Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority's board of trustees voted unanimously to renew the permit for at least another year as long as organizers follow all federal safety rules. That will include any new recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board when it completes its investigation of the crash, something that may not happen until after the races Sept. 12-16.

Besides providing proof of $100 million in insurance, the Reno Air Racing Association must cover any increase in the airport authority's own insurance premiums under the terms of the permit the board approved Thursday.

"All risk must be borne by the Reno Air Racing Association," said Ann Morgan, the board's legal counsel.

The association's current five-year permit expires in June.

Mike Houghton, the racing group's chief executive, said after the board's vote that he was confident he would finalize the insurance next week.

"We're 99 percent there," Houghton told The Associated Press. "We've been lining up underwriters to take portions of the $100 million."

"I would anticipate that by Tuesday we'll have them all in place and we'll be real close to being able to hand an insurance certificate off to the airport," he said.

The National Championship Air Races feature planes flying wingtip-to-wingtip around an aerial track at Reno-Stead Airport, sometimes just 50 feet off the ground at speeds above 500 mph.

Jimmy Leeward, 74, of Ocala, Fla., became the 20th pilot killed at the competition in the Sept. 16 crash, but it was the first time spectators were killed since the races began. He was flying a modified World War II-era P-51 Mustang, dubbed the "Galloping Ghost," when it slammed nose-first into the edge of the private spectator boxes on the apron of the grandstand.

The impact blasted a crater about 3 feet deep and 8 feet wide and scattered debris across more than two acres.