Friday, February 25, 2005

Friedman is 'at risk' in future

Consultant: new site won't curtail traffic

Express Staff Writer

A private jet takes off Wednesday from Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey. Express photo by Chris Pilaro

It began with one of those good news, bad news reports from a consultant Tuesday night at the eighth meeting of the site selection committee searching for an alternate locale for Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey.

The good news for advocates of a new airport: a location a reasonable distance from the present airport will not drastically harm passenger volume.

The bad news for opponents of a new airport: the current airport is "at risk" of losing reliable airline service because of an inability to handle future larger, faster aircraft.

The messenger for all this was Mike Boggs, of the consulting firm of Mead & Hunt, who developed a scenario of a new Wood River Valley airport after studying comparable resort airport operations and passenger travel habits.

In a long, organized recitation of the consequences of a new airport, Boggs checked off these findings:

· Resort visitors choose convenience of an airport closer to Sun Valley over lower ticket prices out of Boise's airport, which is served by 10 airlines with 24 nonstop destinations and 519 flights per week.

· Using so-called site 13 east of Fairfield as a new airport for his study, Boggs found that drive time from Sun Valley resorts would average one hour seven minutes; to Boise from Sun Valley, three hours, and from site 13 to Boise, one hour 53 minutes.

·Because of Friedman Memorial's frequent socked-in weather, 22 percent of all passengers are diverted from landing there during the five-month November- March ski season.

·The five-month ski season accounts for 40 percent of all air travelers, and weather diversions are discouraging future visits.

·With fewer flights, no jets and fewer non-stop destinations, the Sun Valley area is at a competitive disadvantage with other ski resorts.

· Airlines are ordering regional jets for the future, and not turboprops that service Friedman. In the past three years, SkyWest has reduced its fleet of 30-passenger Brasilia turboprops from 91 to 73, while increasing its regional jet fleet to 137.

· At least 70 percent of all passengers arrived at Friedman in the SkyWest turboprop that is being phased out, putting "future air service at Friedman Memorial at risk."

Boggs concluded that the improved reliability of a new airport location that can handle larger aircraft in virtually all inclement weather would overcome any disadvantages of distance.

"The most serious air service problem facing the region served by Friedman Memorial Airport," Boggs said in his report, "is the airport's inability to accommodate the aircraft that will make up future airline fleets."

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