Friday, August 7, 2009

FAA: Friedman closing for safety reasons

Airport replacement critics no-shows at board meeting

Express Staff Writer

In the most sweeping declaration to date on Friedman Memorial Airport's fate, three Federal Aviation Administration officials Tuesday night ruled out any hope that landing-aid technology and physical modifications to the airport could spare it from being shut down.

For more than an hour, FAA officials ticked off reasons why Friedman eventually must be closed and replaced. The airport's governing board—the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority—sat in rapt silence during the FAA presentations. Then, several board members posed questions that required the FAA trio to repeat their answers to confirm what had been said earlier, as if to erase any doubt about the FAA's decisions.

The lead-off FAA speaker, Jason Pitts, manager of the 12-state FAA Northwestern region's flight procedures office, said Friedman's worst fatal flaw is the terrain of "significant ridgelines" that prevent larger aircraft from making missed approaches to the north. He said the FAA requires aircraft to be at least 2,000 feet above the highest terrain to successfully exit the runway area and return to higher airspace for another approach.

Pitts also ruled out, as he has in the past, any notion of a standard FAA instrument approach from the north over the city of Hailey.

When authority member Len Harlig asked if there is any appeal from the FAA's decision, Pitts said, yes, Friedman officials could appeal to the FAA's Oklahoma City flight center—but it was that headquarters that confirmed the finding of Pitts and three separate investigators that Friedman could not pass what Pitts called "the hazard test."

Pitts added, "We have looked at it (approaches) from every angle," and "sorry, the answer is no" to any technologies that would change the FAA decision.

Then, Carolyn Reed, manager of the region's planning, environmental and financial programs, and Cayla Morgan, who's managing the FAA-funded environmental impact statement analysis to designate a replacement site for Friedman, answered a flurry of questions.

Of special concern was the current non-compliance of Friedman's runway and taxiway layout that by regulation should handle no aircraft larger than the B-II category 28-passenger twin-engine Brasilia operated by SkyWest Airlines. The FAA has allowed larger aircraft such as Horizon Air's 78-passenger Q400 to operate provided the airport's flight operations are brought to a standstill when larger, faster airline and corporate jets are landing or taking off.

However, as Morgan and Reed pointed out, if such operational stand-downs become too much of a workload for the control tower's contract controllers, and their employer, Serco Services, declines to stop operations for certain flights, Reed said "all aircraft" using Friedman could be affected. The inference was some aircraft such as the Q400 might be prohibited from operating here.

Reed also said unequivocally that the FAA doesn't issue "waivers," as some save-Friedman advocates have claimed could be done to avoid closing the airport.

Friedman Manager Rick Baird added another facet of Friedman's limitations—the one-way-in-one-way-out single runway that creates delays for incoming and outgoing aircraft. Some aircraft owners, he said, have decided to park in Twin Falls because their arrival at Friedman would be delayed until after nightfall.

Also aggravating Friedman's operations are the increasingly larger sizes of corporate jets, operations manager Pete Kramer said, that require more space to park.

"Some owners don't even bother to show up" at Friedman because of an anticipated shortage of space, he said.

"At a time we're doing great business," chimed in board member Susan McBryant, "we can't handle it. Crazy."

When board Vice Chairman Tom Bowman asked Reed to explain the next step if three potential replacement sites aren't found acceptable, she said she wasn't concerned—"at least two of the three sites" would be acceptable. Bowman also said "Blaine County is 100 percent committed" to replacing Friedman.

Noticeably absent from the meeting were any Sun Valley or Ketchum representatives, including nominal critics of replacing Friedman or the replacement process. Those absent critics included Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn, who has complained north-county representatives have been denied adequate input into discussions about a new airport, and real estate executive Dick Fenton, part of a group that once insisted Friedman could be expanded and modified to meet FAA standards.

Also missing was any representative of the secretive Friedman Airport Users Alliance, which claims in brochures that Friedman's problems can be solved with landing aid ideas of an Alaska aviation consultant, Paul Bowers.

This prompted Harlig to comment after the FMAA meeting, "It's a shame relocation opponents ... didn't come to the FMAA meeting tonight to hear the truth from FAA or to ask questions in a public-noticed meeting."

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