Friday, June 19, 2009

Airport arguments shot down

Keeping Friedman could be more expensive than building new field

Costs of rebuilding Friedman Memorial Airport to conform to current design standards for ground operations required by the Federal Aviation Administration would cost as much or perhaps more than building a replacement airport, according to the two officials leading studies to find a site for a new airport.

But even with modifications, Friedman still wouldn't pass muster as a commercial service airfield because of surrounding terrain on three sides, they said. Foul winter weather also would create flight cancellations and diversions, now some 30 percent of all commercial flights last December and somewhat less in January and February.

Environmental specialist Cayla Morgan, of the FAA's Northwest Mountain Region office in Seattle, and Mark Perryman, president of the Cincinnati-headquartered Landrum & Brown consultants, answered a range of questions posed by Mountain Express reporters Wednesday, before they appeared Thursday at a joint Ketchum-Sun Valley city councils meeting. Perryman's firm is conducting an Environmental Impact Statement analysis to pinpoint a new airport site.

Saying airports all over the nation face rebuilding or relocation because of larger, faster aircraft using airfields designed for older aircraft, Perryman rejected claims by relocation critics that Friedman could easily and inexpensively be modified.

State Highway 75, which runs alongside the Hailey airport, would need to be moved eastward, requiring condemnation of homes and businesses in Woodside, he said. The highway is now technically in an illegal location because of stiffer FAA standards, located in the "Object Free Area" alongside the runway.

"The one thing we cannot fix is the terrain around this airport," Perryman said.

Friedman is now a B-category airport. FAA standards require a more expansive C-category design. To make Friedman compliant, the runway and taxiway would need to be relocated, as well as the terminal area, Perryman said.

In Friedman's present layout, ground operations must be halted whenever a long-wing, high-speed aircraft is landing or taking off, Perryman said, as Morgan nodded in agreement. This FAA stipulation is to prevent aircraft such as Horizon Air's Bombardier Q400 from banging into the wingtip of another aircraft on the taxiway.

Perryman said that during the annual Allen & Co. gathering of media and investment tycoons in July, the 50 or more jets arriving and departing creates a backup of aircraft in the air for miles south of Friedman, plus a backup of aircraft on the ground that can't take off.


"That backs up all the way into Salt Lake City," Perryman said. "It starts to form a gridlock situation."

Morgan said that if the FAA-funded private control tower contractor at Friedman decides the heavy workload of "sanitizing" Friedman operations is too much for controllers, the FAA could shut down operations at Friedman as unsafe.

Morgan also dismissed the notion that her agency could grant a waiver to allow for some or all operations at Friedman to continue, despite these and other issues.

"We've said no and we mean no," Morgan said.

Likewise, Perryman said he wasn't aware of another airport within the Northwest region that has been granted a waiver.

To a question about claims that a new airport would cost local taxpayers $200 million, Morgan and Perryman dismissed that as false.

First, although no price can be set for a new 1,200-acre airport until a site and a design have been approved, they estimated a field for basic aeronautical operations would cost about $100 million, largely funded by the FAA. Investors probably would spend another $20 million for private-use facilities.

A substantial part of Friedman's 211 acres would be sold off and reinvested in a new field. Perryman also said user fees collected by Friedman—passenger charges, auto rentals, parking fees and tenant leases—would be used to pay down airport costs.

In fiscal year 2008, Friedman collected a total of about $5,387,000 from private users on the field that could be used, for example, to retire any revenue bond issue required, something that has not been necessary at Friedman.

The FAA gave Friedman an additional sum of about $2,305,000 during the year for airport construction and repair work.

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