Wednesday, July 16, 2008

'Big Iron' meant big business for Friedman airport

Express Staff Writer

Dick Parsons, chairman of the board of Time Warner, was one of several corporate bigwigs who flew in for last week’s Allen & Co. social gathering at Sun Valley Resort Photo by Willy Cook

The scene might've aptly fit the cliché of "an embarrassment of riches" -- 90 sleek corporate jet aircraft packed into virtually every available foot of parking space at Friedman Memorial Airport while their VIP owners attended the annual Allen & Co. gathering of media moguls for several days.

Although airport personnel were not sure which, one of the jets landed with incognito Middle East royalty, Jordanian King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein, who landed in his larger jet at another distant airport and flew in a smaller aircraft to Friedman, which restricts the size of aircraft. King Abdullah attended the Allen conference.

"Absolutely full," said Friedman manager Rick Baird of the parked aircraft. Had pilots parked the arriving jets themselves and not had them towed and squeezed to parking spots on the west side of the field, Baird said, less than half as many aircraft could've been parked. As it was, several jets could not be accommodated and spent their stay at the Twin Falls airport.

Baird said corporate jets of choice are larger than ever. He said more than half of the jets parked at Friedman were the Bombardier Global Express (new at about $45 million each) and the Gulfstream V or 500 series (new at between $39 million to $50 million each).

Just conservatively averaging the value of the jets from the largest to the smaller Cessna Citations at about $30 million each, more than $2 billion worth of "Big Iron" -- pilots' pet name for VIP jets -- was housed at the Hailey field.

A longtime veteran of the annual get-togethers, Melidee Wright, general manager of Atlantic Aviation Sun Valley, was ecstatic about the flawless arrival, parking and departure of the corporate fleet.

"No complaints, no problems," she said Monday. She praised the Friedman control tower for shepherding the high-performance luxury jets in and out and the airport's operations staff.

In the process, Atlantic Aviation and Friedman turned a pretty penny or two.

Owners paid up to some $90 per night for each jet's parking, depending on the type aircraft.

They shelled out another fee for landing—$96.62, for example, for the larger Gulfstream, $120.12 for the heavier Global Express. Weight over 6,000 pounds determined the fee.

However, fuel was the largest expense. At $7.44 per gallon, filling a Global Express's tanks with some 6,500 gallons would cost more than $48,000. However, most jets land with fuel aboard and thus only require partial refueling of the tanks. Wright said she did not immediately have statistics on total fuel pumped.

Landing and parking fees go directly to Friedman airport, while Atlantic Aviation Sun Valley receives a small percentage of fuel prices for refueling aircraft.

As it has for the past 23 years, Atlantic Aviation Sun Valley and its predecessor owner, Sun Valley Aviation, tossed a special barbecue picnic for 100 or so flight crewmen at the Sun Valley Resort's Trail Creek Cabin. The party was featured in Monday's New York Times.

Baird said he would have a more complete report on the Allen event's impact for the airport authority at its regular monthly meeting Aug. 5.

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