Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Local pilots agitated over new airport

Airport manager reiterates need for relocation

Express Staff Writer

Members of the general aviation community emphasized at a meeting last week that the economic benefits of their activities at Friedman Memorial Airport should not be dismissed as discussion heats up about a replacement airport.

General aviation accounts for nearly half the total revenue at Friedman, so those in attendance on Thursday, Nov. 18, were given a lot to chew on. The meeting was hosted by the Wood River Economic Partnership at the Sun Valley Inn Continental Room. Clear from the beginning was that despite momentum building for a new airport, many in this crowd want to keep flying in and out of Hailey.

Atlantic Aviation's Mike Rasch gave a report on his company's activity at Friedman, including the construction in 2005 of its new hangar in the southwest corner of the property. Rasch said Atlantic Aviation wants to be part of any new airport in the region, but he also pointed to its ties with the Wood River Valley.

"We employ 25 people at our Hailey operation," he said, "so our economic situation goes beyond just running a business here."

Jim Perkins of the Blaine County Pilots Association sounded the night's most emotional support for continued air service in Hailey. Citing the landing of jets at Friedman for the Allen & Co. conference each July, Perkins called the existing airport "safe for use by general aviation," and criticized a host of unknowns surrounding the proposed new airport.

"Local pilots are concerned about the location of a new airport," Perkins said. "Site 10A (in southern Blaine County) is so much farther away, its design is still unknown and the flight conditions down there are a big worry. Fog and winds hit that area worse than they do the Friedman site."

It was left to Friedman Manager Rick Baird to put the evening's information into context. He reminded everyone that the decision to research development of a new airport had been mandated by the FAA.

"From the time of the first pavement project at Friedman in 1976, consultants have said the airport would eventually have to move," Baird said.

He agreed with others that Friedman's safety record is outstanding, but urged people to have foresight.

"Every jet that now lands at Friedman exceeds our compliance limits," he said. "I would ask that you stop looking at the now and look to the future. Friedman does not currently meet FAA design standards, nor does it meet current demand. If our airport does not meet current demand, how will it ever meet future demand?"

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