Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Huffman's airport stance ruffles feathers

Baird says comparing Aspen and Friedman wrong

Express Staff Writer

Reaction to a blistering speech two weeks ago by Sun Valley Co.'s general manager stating that the search for a new airport site is clouded in politics includes rebukes from two elected officials.

In his criticism of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority at a June 8 membership breakfast of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, Wally Huffman said the Hailey airport could be expanded with a Federal Aviation Administration waiver, making a more-distant new airport and possible reduction of air service unnecessary.

Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant, who sits as vice chair of the Airport Authority, called Huffman's remarks "incomplete and wrong."

As for Huffman's criticisms that a new airport on ranchland north of Shoshone would add about 14 minutes more drive time to the ski area than from Friedman Memorial, McBryant said:

"If there's not enough substance to the resort to sustain this kind of change and the time it takes for anyone to get anywhere, the resort must not have a great deal to offer. I don't believe that's the case."

"Wally is doing his job very well for a special interest," as "we hope we (elected officials) are doing our job well," McBryant said.

Blaine County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael said she was jolted by Huffman's long monologue, saying, "If it was going to be a one-sided statement on the airport, or harangue on the airport, let's have a debate, a point and counterpoint."

Huffman's "rhetoric and accusations and kind of terminology doesn't lend itself to dialogue," Michael said.

Meanwhile, Friedman Manager Rick Baird said he would have new graphics to show the Airport Authority at its July 7 meeting that illustrate consequences of trying to expand on existing airport property and outside the boundaries.

Baird said this week that critics of a new airport who allude to the airport in Aspen, Colo., as an example of how facilities can be expanded are, in effect, comparing apples with oranges.

He said Friedman is 230 acres, while the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport covers 805 acres, 3.5 times larger than Friedman. Aspen is now moving a taxiway farther from the runway to comply with Federal Aviation Administration safety concerns.

Proximity of taxiways to the runway is the major issue at Friedman. Because both the city of Hailey and Blaine County have officially declared the airport cannot expand outside its present property lines, the airport has virtually no wiggle room except to the west. But that would mean all hangars, auto parking lots, aircraft ramps and the terminal would need to be leveled to make room for a westward move of the runway and one taxiway.

Under FAA restrictions now in force, when Horizon Air's four-turboprop Bombardier Q400 airliner lands at Friedman, the two adjoining taxiways must be cleared of aircraft because of the Q400's 93-foot wingspan.

Baird again said that Huffman makes public claims without any documentation, whereas "we (the Airport Authority) have to have the paperwork to support conclusions."

He also said ignoring Friedman's limitations and not looking for a new site and "planning for the future" would be like "ignoring gridlock between Hailey and Ketchum" on state Highway 75.

"We can't wait to lose air service to solve" the problem, Baird said. "Air carrier operations above airport standards aren't guaranteed to go on forever. It's poor leadership to wait until we lose it (air service) and then try to get it back."

The regular authority meeting was rescheduled from July 5 because of the July 4 holiday to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 7.

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