Friday, January 13, 2006

Forecast: new airport to be in operation by 2017

Fate of Friedman Memorial Airport still undecided

Express Staff Writer

Mark this on your calendar: The first full year of operations of a new airport outside of Hailey for the Wood River Valley is projected to be in 2017.

That's according to airport consultant Tom Schnetzer, of the firm of Mead & Hunt, who told the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority Tuesday night that final touches are being put on a financial feasibility study about costs of building and operating a new facility to replace the Hailey field.

Later, when asked whether Schnetzer's forecast of the airport's opening implied a decision has been made to close the existing Friedman field in 2016, Airport Manager Rick Baird said no.

"This is just the starting point," Baird said, to acquire information that would provide the Airport Authority with data on which to decide whether, for example, Friedman should be retained for non-airline operations and with restrictions on the types of aircraft operating there.

"If they (the authority) want us to look at something else" for Friedman, Baird said, "we're ready."

Constructing a new airport has been virtually inevitable since the Federal Aviation Administration informed Friedman officials the field is out of compliance with FAA safety regulations, and the city of Hailey and Blaine County, the airport's titular owners, then rejected proposals to expand Friedman to meet safety rules.

The new facility's proposed site is in southern Blaine County close to the Lincoln County line, on the east side of state Highway 75. The goal is to acquire 600 to 1,200 acres, much of it buffer land to prevent encroachment, for at least one long runway of at least 8,000 feet, and possibly a second, shorter crosswind runway.

The estimated cost in 2005 dollars would be $80 million to $100 million.

Several more years of study by the FAA lie ahead for the proposed airport. Schnetzer told the board at its monthly meeting that wind-measuring equipment has been installed near the proposed site to gather data that would be used in designing alignment of a runway.

A potential obstacle that could arise is opposition from the Shoshone-Bannock Native American tribes, which have expressed doubts in the past about an airport that could infringe on the tribes' treaty rights to hunt and fish.

Always in the background is the pressure from general aviation interests to retain Friedman for smaller aircraft. But the ultimate question of that scenario is whether the FAA would provide operating funds for two airports, or, if not, what revenues would the city of Hailey and Blaine County use to support continued use of Friedman.

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