The two options for expansion at the existing site that do not involve spreading into the Woodside neighborhood of Hailey are shown above. The first, top, would shift the runway south by 1,800 feet. The second would shift the runway south by more than a mile and slightly realign it to the west, resulting in less air traffic over downtown Bellevue.
Airport and Hailey city officials dusted off old maps this week in an attempt to show the Wood River Valley that expanding the current airport site without claiming parts of the Woodside neighborhood is possible.
The maps were available for viewing at a series of public meetings held at Hailey City Hall this week, at which council members and airport officials tried to get a sense of which options for expanding or replacing Friedman Memorial Airport the public would accept.
"We're just talking about, what should we do now?" said Hailey City Councilwoman Carol Brown. "Whatever we decide, we need to be very clear about the choice and the outcomes."
In an Aug. 22 letter to airport Manager Rick Baird, Federal Aviation Administration Northwest Mountain Region Manager Donna Taylor stated that work on an environmental-impact study of plans to build a new airport to replace Friedman had been "indefinitely" suspended. Taylor stated that the suspension was due to "increased anticipated costs of the project and potential impacts to wildlife."
Taylor said in a public meeting earlier this month that the FAA was waiting for direction from the community before proceeding with further studies.
Friedman has been operating under special FAA permission—with restrictions—that allows Horizon Air's Q-400 turboprop planes to land and take off, even though the runway does not meet design standards for the aircraft. The permission has been granted with an understanding that efforts would be made to bring the field into compliance or build a new, larger airport somewhere else.
Brown said that while relocating the airport is technically possible and no options have been rejected so far, expansion of the current site might be the most cost-effective solution.
"To build a [commercial] airport anywhere else would be $200 million," Brown said, subtracting the additional $100 million dollars she said it would cost to construct private hangars and facilities. "No way would a bond [that size] pass."
Baird was careful to emphasize that expansion of the existing site was not a given, however. The maps were created in 2006, and represent options that had been discussed for expansion for years, even decades.
The first would shift the Friedman runway 1,800 feet to the south, allowing an expansion of the "obstacle-free area" that is too small at the current site to meet FAA standards for Class 3 aircraft, including the Q-400. Because the buildings to the south of the main terminal are located slightly to the west of the terminal, shifting the runway could allow the airport to meet FAA design standards.
"The north end of the airfield is too tight to come anywhere near the standard," Baird said in an interview. "A shift to the south may give us the flexibility to meet those standards."
The other map shows a complete shift of the runway 6,700 feet south and a realignment that would send planes slightly to the west. Baird said during the meeting on Wednesday that this option would result in less air traffic over downtown Bellevue and aircraft may be able to approach the airport at a lower altitude.
"May" being the key term, as Baird said the maps are just preliminary and have not been studied extensively. No cost estimates are available, and both options would involve acquiring part of the Flying Hat Ranch just south of the airport.
"Both options would be significantly less expensive than a new airport," Baird said.
As to whether owner would be willing to sell part of the ranch, County Commissioner and Airport Authority Board Member Larry Schoen said he is optimistic.
"I presume that the Airport Authority, if we choose to expand the existing airport, will enter into negotiations with the hope of meeting his needs and ours," Schoen said. "I think it's possible to negotiate, but I don't want to speculate on how difficult that might be."
Baird said either option would allow all Class 3 planes, including regional jets, to land at the airport. He said that Class D or Class 4 planes (both of which have wider wingspans) would not be permitted under either option, but C-3 compliance should be enough to maintain commercial air service.
"This is the big jump," he said. "We can meet FAA standards by either one or a combination of both."
But whether the community will embrace expansion of the new site is still up in the air. Several Hailey leaders in the past have insisted that the airport be relocated.
"Some people feel very strongly that they just want it elsewhere," Brown said.
Schoen said he's gotten different feedback from constituents, many of whom seem open to the possibility of expansion.
"I have found an overwhelming willingness among Hailey and Bellevue residents to consider alternatives at the existing site," he said, adding that the city of Hailey and Blaine County need to focus on "reasonable, viable, affordable alternatives," either at the current site or elsewhere.
Baird said that even if an alternative can't be found, the airport would not shut down.
"An option is still to do nothing," he said. "There's this myth that either we'll fix it or we'll close. That's not true."
Doing nothing could still mean eventually losing commercial air service as the Q-400 becomes obsolete and carriers move to using larger passenger planes. That would be catastrophic, Brown said.
"No commercial air service? Holy Toledo," she said. "It would be an economic disaster."
The maps are still available for viewing at noon and 5:30 p.m. today, Sept. 23, at Hailey City Hall. Residents can also view the maps and talk to elected officials on Monday, Sept. 26, at 5:30 p.m. and join a discussion regarding airport options on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 5:30 p.m. in the Continental Room of the Sun Valley Inn, at Sun Valley Resort.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com