Friday, May 14, 2010

Pilot group dreams of 2-airport future

Aviators express desire to keep Friedman operational

Express Staff Writer

The president of the Blaine County Pilots Association expressed the hope this week that Friedman Memorial Airport would continue operating for small general aviation aircraft when a new replacement airport is built at a distant site.

While reporting on results of an informal attitude survey among Friedman-based aircraft owners, Jim Perkins told the Blaine County Aviation Advisory Committee on Tuesday that local pilots don't oppose a new commercial airport, but favor keeping Friedman open for smaller aircraft.

Perkins said the 47 responses received from 100 hangar and aircraft owners show that if Friedman is not kept open, most aircraft owners would not base their planes at a new commercial airport, but instead would relocate at small airports at Carey, Picabo and elsewhere in the region. He said only one current hangar owner indicated he would build a new hangar at a new airport, while 30 said they would not.

"The general feeling of pilots," Perkins told the advisory group, "is that if Friedman goes away, so does general aviation."

The city of Hailey and Blaine County, joint "owners" of Friedman, have repeatedly said they would not keep Friedman open. The Federal Aviation Administration also has said Friedman's design falls short of safety requirements for today's faster, larger jet aircraft and cannot be modified.

To keep Friedman open for smaller aircraft, the city of Hailey would need to reverse its decision and thereby forego plans now under way to redevelop Friedman land as a multi-use public and private industrial, residential and cultural showcase.

Operating costs to keep Friedman open would have to be borne by users. The only likely source of government funding would be grants from the Idaho Transportation Department.

But even one of the replacement airport's toughest critics, former Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn, an aircraft owner who's criticized the process for moving Friedman, cast doubts on Perkins' survey.

"I don't think you can rely on those survey results," he said, adding that he didn't answer the questionnaire.

Conn and others have pointed out that more than half of Friedman's revenue comes from general aviation.

However, the term "general aviation" can be misleading. Most of the general aviation revenues are from larger jet aircraft operated by charter services or owned by visiting VIPs and celebrities and residents, which pay landing fees based on weight and large fuel purchases.

The latest official roster of aircraft based at Friedman totals 150—101 single-engine airplanes, 38 multi-engine prop aircraft, eight jets, one helicopter and two ultralights.

Only 3 percent of the 121 average daily operations analyzed over a 12-month period involve landings and takeoffs by local general aviation, whereas 52 percent involved transient general aviation, 40 percent were SkyWest Airlines and Horizon Air flights and 4 percent were classified as commercial. Military was less than 1 percent.

Throughout discussions of a replacement airport by members of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority, the consensus has been that despite claims that they won't move to a distant field, most general-aviation aircraft owners at Friedman will welcome a replacement airport with state-of-the-art landing systems and an improved layout and other facilities.

Chicago-based Ricondo and Associates, the airport authority's financial adviser, is now conducting studies on the economics of building and operating a new airport that will include projections on revenue-producing flight operations involving airline and general aviation aircraft.

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