Friday, May 4, 2007

Express editorial draws airport manager rebuke

Express Staff Writer

In one of his rare criticisms of critics, Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird took aim Tuesday night at an editorial in the Idaho Mountain Express that accused the airport, its consultants on relocating the Hailey airport to a new site, and the Federal Aviation Administration of "ignoring" the importance of subsidies for airlines that might need financial support.

The need for minimum revenue guarantees (MRGs) is included in a three-year Environmental Impact Statement study being conducted by Landrum & Brown, a Cincinnati-based international consulting firm. But as Baird, the FAA and its legal counsel, Peter Kirsch, of Denver, Friedman attorney Barry Luboviski and others have pointed out, the FAA and Friedman cannot use federal funds for MRGs and Idaho state law currently prohibits the use of tax funds for MRGs.

In his rejoinder to the April 27 editorial, "Those tricky cause-and-effect equations," Baird ticked off a series of decisions by the airport and its governing board over the past decade or so designed to increase airline service to the area within its legal authority.

The largest of these decisions by the airport authority was to "provide this community with an all-weather capable, safe and futuristic facility" to attract expanded air service by more carriers."

In addition to occasional Mountain Express editorial alarms about MRGs, the issue has been a touchstone criticism for Ketchum real estate executive Dick Fenton and Sun Valley Resort General Manager Wally Huffman.

Mountain Express Publisher Pam Morris commented after Baird's statement to the airport board that "local governments should be just as concerned and as active as the business community in figuring out where any additional money will come from." Express editorials are separate from the newspaper's news pages.

Meanwhile, among its most recent efforts, the Fly Sun Valley Alliance, an offshoot of the Sun Valley Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau, has raised an estimated $400,000 in equivalent marketing and advertising services from valley businesses as an incentive for Frontier Airlines to begin service between Denver and Hailey. The group said it would raise MRGs for Frontier later if requested by the air carrier. Frontier is expected to announce later this month whether it has picked Hailey for new service.

Fly Sun Valley Alliance has not asked the airport or the FAA for MRG assistance.

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