Friday, November 21, 2008

The airport: What we know

Martha Burke is president of the Hailey City Council and chairs the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority board. Tom Bowman is chairman of the Blaine County Commission and serves as vice-chairman of the airport authority board.


For many years valley residents have been studying, discussing and debating two fundamental questions regarding Friedman Memorial Airport: Can Friedman, hampered by frequent winter diversions and aircraft limitations, be modified to meet Federal Aviation Administration standards? And would a replacement airport in a different location hurt the local economy?

Thanks to important new analysis, prepared by a team of independent aviation and economic experts, we now have answers to both questions. The analysis has been developed as part of the FAA's exhaustive environmental impact statement process, which is assessing the need for, and location of, a replacement airport.

We now know that Friedman will not meet our future aviation needs and cannot meet FAA design standards. We also know, based on two reports assessing economic issues, that a replacement airport, regardless of where it is located, will dramatically improve air service and provide a multi-million-dollar annual economic boost to the valley.

How dependable is the analysis? The FAA's principle contractor is Landrum & Brown, a nearly 60-year-old aviation consulting firm that does forecasting work for multifaceted airports, including those in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Among major projects, the firm helped with master planning for Denver's successful new airport.

Here's what the Landrum & Brown report says about the existing airport: "Full compliance with FAA design standards cannot be practicably achieved at the existing site." Friedman "is not "flexible and expandable, able to meet increased demand and to accommodate new aircraft types' and actions to address this capability would be costly and highly disruptive to the community."

The report notes persistent problems with reliability at Friedman, including that "during winter months approximately 22 percent of commercial flights and an unknown number of GA (general aviation) flights are diverted to other airports rather than being able to land" at Sun Valley. "The reliability problems that exist due to the surrounding mountainous terrain often result in flights being diverted because of high approach minimums. Unfortunately, these reliability issues cannot be solved at the current site because approach minimums cannot be improved."

Only one conclusion is possible: Safe, efficient, long-term air service to the Sun Valley area can only be accommodated at a new, fully FAA-compliant replacement airport.

What about the economics of a new airport? Will it be successful and provide an economic benefit to the area? These issues were addressed in two reports issued in October.

The analysis confirms that a new airport will double annual enplanements (passengers boarding). This assessment is based on interviews with airlines, passenger surveys, historical trends at Friedman, Twin Falls and Boise, and experience at eight airports that serve ski resorts, including Vail, Aspen and Jackson Hole.

A new, all-weather airport will allow airlines to use larger, more efficient aircraft, including 737 or regional jets, while attracting new carriers. Increased competition will have a positive effect on airfares and lead to more direct, non-stop service to new markets. The analysis predicts more than a $30 million annual positive impact from new visitor spending, increased economic activity associated with increased air traffic and new employment. Nearly 500 new jobs are projected as a direct result of a replacement airport.

Our goal, as we continue on the path of creating the necessary replacement airport, is to ensure that the Sun Valley region enjoys safe, dependable, quality air service far into the future. Much work remains to reach that goal, but finally getting solid answers to some fundamental questions allows us to move ahead with confidence and determination.

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