Friday, September 4, 2009

Plans for new airport gain ground

Governing board agrees to hire financial consultant, project manager

Momentum for a new airport to replace Friedman Memorial picked up more speed Tuesday when Friedman's governing board agreed to move quickly to hire a financial consultant and project manager before the end of the year.

The financial consultant would provide a broad master plan for financing the $100-million-plus replacement airport, while the project manager would oversee every detail of the new field's construction.

Airport Manager Rick Baird was instructed to return to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority at its October meeting with outlines of the qualifications required for the two positions.

A sense of urgency helped propel the authority into its decision to hire specialists for the new airport's construction.

The board's special legal adviser, Denver aviation attorney Peter Kirsch, said the Federal Aviation Administration only allows three years from the date of its decision approving the site and construction of a new airport to the start of construction.

Kirsch said the airport authority couldn't afford to take the "patient, slow approach" to planning and building the new field. He presented the board with workflow charts designating actions that must be taken along with their deadlines.

Kirsch said that because only a few airports have been built in his lifetime, and the field of specialists involves the very best, the board would find top-notch consultants to plan funding and supervise construction among a class of professionals he called "airport geeks."

"Building an airport is particularly complicated because of so many moving parts," he said.

Kirsch also said that it's vital for airlines now serving Friedman, as well as those considering serving the Wood River Valley, to be given a date when the new airport would likely open so they can plan their own operations.

Because the proposed new airport would be built outside the city of Hailey, which is now a co-owner of Friedman, Blaine County would assume the role of sole sponsor of a new field. Kirsch said current obligations to the FAA could be easily transferred from the current airport authority to the county.

Ron Fairfax, the board's only pilot member, interjected that he believes the new field would lose as much as 50 percent of the general aviation operations because of its distance from the urban area.

"A lot of general aviation people moved here because of the airport (Friedman). They feel slighted," Fairfax said.

He compared it to moving the ski mountain from Ketchum to Galena, in which case he said, "you'd ski less."

However, Baird said plans for the new airport include incentives and facilities for general aviation that will make the facility appealing.

Jim Perkins, president of the Blaine County Pilots Association, cited how other Idaho airports are closer to host towns than the new Wood River airport would be. He also criticized a Mountain Express headline saying Friedman is unsafe. A recent statement from an FAA official said Friedman couldn't pass "a hazard test."

Board member Susan McBryant bristled, saying "nothing started out close" when airports in the state were originally built. She also said general aviation had been responsible for all accidents at Friedman, except one involving an airliner.

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