SkyWest Airlines has jumped into the fray over the search for a new airport site to replace the aging Hailey facility, arguing that passenger loads and frequency of flights to the Wood River Valley could be adversely affected by an airport more than an hour's drive time from the Sun Valley resort area.
In a March 28 letter to Friedman Memorial Airport Authority chair Martha Burke, SkyWest's vice president for market development, Steve Hart, also appealed for the site selection committee to look again at closer sites as well as consider upgrading the current airport to new standards imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Burke was attending an FAA regional conference in Denver and could not be reached. Friedman manager Rick Baird, also at the same conference, declined to comment on the letter, saying it would be discussed Tuesday, April 12, at the authority's regular monthly meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. in the Old Blaine County Courthouse.
The views of SkyWest and Horizon Air have become increasingly important arguing points in the contentious search for an airport site. Business and resort interests of the Ketchum-Sun Valley area have insisted that sites now being considered are so distant that travelers accustomed to the Hailey airport will be discouraged.
At the other end of the confrontation are the City of Hailey and Blaine County that have resolved not to expand Friedman to meet FAA standards required by larger, faster airline aircraft.
Hart's letter, a copy of which was provided the Mountain Express by Maurice Charlat, a member of the site selection committee, contends that "if the preferred site selected (for a new airport) is approximately 1 hour or possibly an hour and 10 or 15 minutes from Ketchum, SkyWest believes there is high probability that such a location. . .would adversely affect passenger loads and ticket revenues and consequently the service frequency of our existing connecting service from Salt Lake City."
Hart calculated drive time from the Ketchum area to three sites under consideration as 55 minutes to No. 10 and 61 minutes to No. 9, both in the area of the Blaine-Lincoln counties line east of state Highway 75, and 67 minutes to No. 13 on U.S. east of Fairfield.
"SkyWest strongly urges that sites (north of Timmerman Hill) be reconsidered," Hart wrote, adding that "40 minutes is a reasonable distance from airport to resort."
North of Timmerman would mean the so-called Bellevue Triangle area, which was ruled out several months ago because of its proximity to Bellevue and strong protests from Triangle residents. Environmental concerns in the area also were cited.
However, if a larger airport becomes an incentive for air service to more major U.S. markets, "we believe the 1 hour or 1 hour plus drive is not ideal but may be acceptable to the traveling public."
He also wrote that the subsidy for present service "is probably not in the long range best interest of the community or SkyWest because there is little likelihood of growing the market sufficiently to reduce or eliminate the subsidy."
Instead, he wrote, "subsidy for non-stop serviced to major markets that offer reasonable prospects for growing out of the subsidy" is a better approach.
SkyWest, he wrote, plans to phase out its turboprop Brasilia aircraft beginning in 2008. It will be replaced with such airliners as the 78-passenger Bombardier Q400, now used by Horizon for service to Friedman, and whose sizes and approach speed triggered FAA concerns about Friedman's safety.
Hart believes, he wrote, that the replacement aircraft "will be able to service Sun Valley in compliance with the FAA's Flight Standards."
Charlat, who has insisted that the airline point of view is receiving insufficient concern, said that "if you disturb core service and move (the airport) elsewhere, and it's not sufficient to produce revenues for the airlines, we've got to do something."
He added, "We have not looked at anything north of Timmerman seriously except at the site near Fairfield.
Charlat mentioned a possible site in the Diamond Dragon area west of Highway 75 and north of the Timmerman Junction with U.S. 20.
Due to an error in transcribing, Camas County Commission Ron Chapman was inaccurately quoted in an earlier report as favoring site No. 13 east of Fairfield for a new airport. In fact, Chapman said he is undecided.
The quote that should have been attributed to Fairfield Mayor David Hanks is that "support for the airport (at site 13) is very large" among Camas area residents.
A poll is under way in Camas County to determine public support.