Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Panel delays economic forecast for new airport

Express Staff Writer

After reflecting on the national slump in air travel, the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority agreed at its monthly meeting Jan. 5 to postpone developing an economic forecast of possible financial revenues and costs of a replacement airport for Friedman.

Airport authority chair Tom Bowman said a study now would be based on economic-activity data "with the worst numbers in five years." But Friedman's new economic consultant has been given the go-ahead to develop a general financing plan for a replacement airport.

However, authority member Ron Fairfax suggested a study now.

"The public wants to see a financial model and we want to see a financial model," Fairfax said.

New airport authority member Larry Schoen, who also is chair of the Blaine County Commission, suggested that creating a financial model now would be "assuaging politics" involved in the new airport.

As for a study's costs, airport authority attorney Barry Luboviski estimated it at "somewhere north of $100,000."

Also favoring a delay was airport Manager Rick Baird, who told the board that it "would hate to spend a whole bunch of money if it's not timely." He questioned whether the Federal Aviation Administration would pay for data that would prove to be irrelevant in a year or so.

Supporting the delay was Geoffrey Wheeler, senior vice president of the airport's new financial consultant, Chicago-headquartered Ricondo & Associates, who outlined his future scope of work in developing projected revenues and costs of building a new airport. Wheeler suggested waiting until the third quarter of 2010 before launching studies to develop a financial model. He said current terminal area forecasts are 30 percent below those of 2007 because of the recession.

Besides, added attorney Luboviski, "We won't build an airport unless we can pay for it."

In other actions, the airport board:

· Decided against reopening Friedman's closed taxiway B-8 at the south end of the airport because of costs and creating aircraft traffic jams in the area of the transient parking ramp at Atlantic Aviation.

· Agreed to pay up to $2,500 to Blaine County Title to research title history of land at Site 10-A, a proposed location for a new airport, in southern Blaine County.

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