As the Federal Aviation Administration prepares to pare down the list of possible replacement sites for Hailey's Friedman Memorial Airport, ideas floated briefly over the course of several years seem to have gone the way of will-o'-the-wisp dreams.
At least so far.
When Camas County and the city of Fairfield were mentioned during site selection committee meetings as a possible locale, opponents were quick to point out that the area is too far from the Wood River Valley's resort activities. To reach such an airport, users would need to commute north-south on state Highway 75, then east-west along U.S. Highway 20, a distance of some 50 miles.
To which, several Camas County residents suggested that a permanent, improved shortcut road of some 20 miles could be built through Croy Canyon from Hailey to U.S. Highway 20 east of Fairfield to serve an airport there and sharply reduce the distance.
That idea is considered far-fetched, however.
Devin Rigby, chief engineer for Division 4 of the Idaho Transportation Department, said potential traffic wouldn't justify the state costs. And Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael agreed, adding that no such permanent road has been seriously discussed in her years on the commission. Michael also pointed out that state road funds for Blaine County are shrinking and could not be justified for such a road.
A dirt road shared by Camas and Blaine counties is charted on road maps. But it is difficult to drive on and washed out in certain places, Michael said.
Then, when actor Bruce Willis offered his land holdings in Camas County for a new airport and they were deemed too small for a new larger field, a privately funded airfield to help boost Willis' Soldier Mountain ski operation was mentioned casually during the site studies.
Enter Seattle billionaire Bruce McCaw, believed to be Camas County's largest landholder. A pilot, aircraft owner and longtime heavy investor in aviation interests, McCaw was a co-founder of Horizon Air, which serves Friedman, and was a director of the parent Alaska Air Group. He has expressed an interest in seeing air service into Camas County, but made no commitments on his role, if any.
However, a privately funded, single-runway airport capable of handling corporate jets would be feasible for Camas County. Such a $10 million to $12 million project is easily within McCaw's resources.
The FAA's Cayla Morgan, who is overseeing the study to find a new airport site, said a jet-capable private field in Camas County would only need to be free of interfering with FAA-operated air space.
Coincidentally, a longtime aviation friend and associate of McCaw's, Joe Clark, also of Seattle, built his own 6,705-foot-long-by-75-foot-wide private asphalt strip, identified on air charts as Flying Joseph Ranch Airport, near his ranch some 61 miles north of Friedman Memorial Airport. Friedman's runway is 7,550 feet by 100 feet.
Clark, who with McCaw co-founded Horizon Air and is active with McCaw in preservation of hundreds of historic aircraft at the Seattle Museum of Flight, made his fortune in aircraft winglets, those upturned fins on jet wingtips manufactured by his company, Aviation Partners Boeing.
Winglets cost anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 a pair. More and more corporate jets and airliners are being retrofitted with winglets to increase range, boost lift, reduce fuel consumption and eliminate wingtip vortices drag.