Friday, April 4, 2008

Potential airport sites face first test

Process part of plan to replace Friedman Memorial

Express Staff Writer

A SkyWest Airlines flight taxis along the runway at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey. The FAA has ordered that Friedman be expanded or replaced to meet federal standards.

    Sixteen potential sites for a new airport to replace Friedman Memorial face their first test this month when consultants submit findings to the Federal Aviation Administration on whether any of them are unsuitable for basic landing and takeoff operations.
    Wood River Valley region citizens and business interests originally designated the 16 as possible locales. A site selection committee of 25 principal members and 25 alternates eventually selected so-called site No. 10 in southern Blaine County east of state Highway 75 as the preferred location.
    But as required by law, the FAA has undertaken an environmental impact study of all 16 sites. The EIS, which involves a wide range of economic, environmental and climatic considerations, is being managed by international consulting firm Landrum & Brown.
    Cayla Morgan, the FAA official overseeing the EIS operation, said Thursday that Landrum & Brown would report in mid-April on whether any of the sites have what is known as a “fatal flaw” that would prevent safe operation of air-carrier and other aircraft. A fatal flaw, for example, could be nearby terrain that would make landings and takeoffs risky.

    But she said this round of studies does not include other considerations, such as fog.
    Morgan also told the Mountain Express the EIS study would not be delayed by the request of the city of Fairfield to be exempted from a March 31 deadline on submitting bona fides to become a sponsor or cosponsor of a new airport. Potential sponsors must provide financial capabilities, ownership of property for a facility, a record of public hearings and the like. But she said Fairfield would not be arbitrarily eliminated.
    The EIS is expected to take up to two years to complete. Planners believe a new airport could be built and opened by 2017, assuming funding and site approval continue without a hitch.
    Meanwhile, Friedman Memorial Manager Rick Baird told the airport’s governing board Tuesday that the consultants are planning to install weather-monitoring equipment at three sites to measure climatic conditions—in the Bellevue Triangle, south of U.S. Highway 20 and east of state Highway 75. He said he was not told the precise locations.
    Baird also said the preliminary cost estimate for the equipment has jumped from the original $150,000 to an estimated $250,000. He said the FAA grant for the equipment is $350,000.
    Although a new airport would be equipped with state-of-the-art, all-weather landing aids, weather continues to be a major consideration in finding a proper new site, especially the prevalence of fog.
    The FAA has issued a decision that Friedman’s runway does not comply with all federal safety standards for some commercial airplanes that use the field. Therefore, the agency has said, Friedman must be expanded or replaced.

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