The runway at Friedman Memorial Airport is in "a lot worse condition" than anticipated and might need to be completely rebuilt down as far as 20 inches to its base.
This was Airport Manager Rick Baird's gripping announcement Tuesday night to the Hailey field's governing authority, coming only weeks after the aiport had been closed two and a half weeks in April and May while construction of a new south-end safety zone was begun and electrical improvements were completed.
It was during this work that 23 core samples were taken at intervals for the full length of the 6,952-foot runway and deterioration was discovered.
Technical details of the pavement failures were outlined to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority by airport engineering consultant Chuck Sundby of Toothman-Orten.
The runway consists of various layers of materials. Unreleased moisture, Sundby said, had been eating into some of the layers.
He termed the condition "severe deterioration," but cautioned, "It's not like a bridge (suddenly) collapsing."
As potholes occur, Sundby said, repairs can be made.
Baird said "we'd probably know in July how (the runway) will hold up." July is when the annual Allen & Co. media conference is held at Sun Valley Resort, attracting upwards of 60 or more corporate jets.
Friedman has a 95,000-pound weight limit for aircraft; most of the heaviest VIP jets allowed into Friedman are in the 70,000-pound class.
When Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant, a member of the authority, asked whether a safety issue is involved in the runway condition, Baird said he would not permit operations to continue if safety was compromised.
Saying a meeting will be held as soon as possible with Federal Aviation Administration officials, Baird said he believes runway repair or rebuilding can be delayed until next May and June, when temperatures for construction work are more desirable.
The FAA would decide whether a few layers can be replaced or the basic runway must be rebuilt, Baird said. Costs would range from $3 million to $4 million, funded by the FAA, and construction time could range from three to six weeks.
Among the FAA's considerations, Baird said, is to what extent the runway should be rebuilt, since Friedman is to close and a new airport is to open around 2016.
Another closure of the field is scheduled for Sept. 19 to 21 to complete work on the new south-end safety zone, next to Eccles' Flying Hat Ranch.
Baird said the runway's various materials have predictable life expectancies, and that the rotting condition now detected is about the outer time limit.
Although Friedman has had a runway since early in the 20th century, when it was first used by a few aircraft, the first hard surface was not built until 1976, Baird said. Some of that original construction work has been affected by the deterioration.