Friday, June 8, 2007

Landing system, Denver service both in peril?

Sun Valley Co. thinks 2007 Frontier flights unlikely

Express Staff Writer

Rick Baird

Airport manager Baird switches hats

When necessary in a pinch, Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird can switch hats and perform another duty.

During the airport authority's meeting Tuesday, June 5, Baird abandoned his airport title and reverted to his other public office—that of mayor of the city of Carey—to administer the oath of office to airport authority board members Tom Bowman and Susan McBryant, who will serve new three-year terms.

Under Idaho law, only a mayor or county commissioner can administer the oath.

Grim is about the best word to describe the outlook for Friedman Memorial Airport's long-sought Transponder Landing System.

Airport Manager Rick Baird told the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority Tuesday night that this is the do-or-die year for TLS—it'll either be a reality, he said, or it'll be shut down and $1 million in ground equipment removed.

Baird said that after 13 years of trying to get an instrument landing system operational, Friedman faces what he described as a hostile Federal Aviation Administration that seems to want the plug pulled on the TLS technology.

The TLS is a less expensive cousin to the costly, sophisticated Instrument Landing System (ILS). TLS involves a simple system wherein a ground-based operator manually assigns a code to an inbound aircraft's cockpit transponder. The matching ground and aircraft codes thereupon prompt a needle in the aircraft to show if the aircraft is flying on a descent straight for the runway through low clouds and other inclement weather conditions. The pilot monitors his altitude on the cockpit altimeter.

Although SkyWest Airlines has signed on as a sponsor of the system and test flown it successfully, Baird said the FAA in recent days has been "irritated" by the tests. He said the FAA also had told Congress to not include any TLS funds in its budget, clearly indicating a lack of support for the technology, Baird said.

Baird said he's baffled. TLS "has (better) capability for aircraft to fly to an airfield using computerized systems than 'seat-of-the-pants' flying," and FAA is yanking its support.

He said Idaho's congressional delegation has been asked to query the FAA on its sudden loss of interest in TLS.

In other airport authority matters:

· Sun Valley Co. Marketing Director Jack Sibbach reported to the board that Friedman probably is out of the running this year for new Frontier Airlines service from Denver. Delayed deliveries of new Frontier aircraft and lack of FAA approval are the causes, he said. The first communities to get new service, he said, probably will be Colorado resorts.

· Ketchum real estate executive Dick Fenton appeared again to raise questions about the reliability of an environmental impact statement required by the FAA before a new airport site can be designated. Conceding he hadn't read the latest EIS draft prepared by consultants Landrun & Brown, Fenton suggested, among other things, more attention to the comparative cost of retaining Friedman or a site in the Bellevue Triangle, rather than building a distant new airport; inclusion of more data on the mechanics of raising minimum revenue guarantees (subsidies) for airlines operating into the valley; and closer comparison of ticket prices for flights to other resort airports. Fenton also suggested avoiding "political considerations" in decisions. The board instructed the airport staff to forward Fenton's comments to the FAA, which already has indicated that data Fenton mentioned is generally included in the EIS.

· Reconstruction of Friedman's runway came in $84,032 under the budgeted $4.4 million. By milling parts of the existing runway's materials, some 4,000 truck trips with new materials were saved, along with 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The 18 acres of runway pavement involved 55 million pounds of asphalt, according to engineering consultant Toothman-Orton.

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