Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Regional jets partially approved

FAA divisions still could block flights

Express Staff Writer

The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the first step toward allowing commercial regional jets to fly into Friedman Memorial Airport.

SkyWest airlines broached the subject of adding regional jets to its Sun Valley operation during a meeting with the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority in November.

In a meeting of the Blaine County Commission on Tuesday, airport Manager Rick Baird said the FAA Air Traffic division has agreed to allow the airport to include C-III regional jets in a letter of agreement that allows certain commercial aircraft to land at the airport despite the site's runway limitations.

These jets have a longer wingspan and faster approach speed than is allowed under current standard operating procedures.

The letter currently 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, but does require the tower to ensure the taxiways are empty—known as "sterile"—before the Q-400 lands.

Baird said that under a new agreement, the tower would follow the same procedures with regional jets.

"The outcome was very positive," Baird said. "We can include that group of jets in a letter of agreement with the tower. In fact, we'll likely have that letter executed before I go on vacation next week."

However, the letter only satisfied one division of the FAA. Before regional jets can fly into Friedman Memorial Airport, interested airlines must complete an environmental assessment as part of a set of operational specifications, which would be approved by the Flight Standards division of the FAA.

Among other things, the environmental assessment studies the impact of that aircraft on surrounding neighborhoods.

Commissioner Tom Bowman, also chair of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority, said that while the initial approval sets a foundation, it does not guarantee that regional jets will be able to fly into the airport.

"This meeting demonstrated what a large organization the FAA is," he said. "To us, there is just one FAA. In practice, that might not be always the case."

Katherine Wutz:

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