Friday, May 4, 2012

Steer clear of the ticket to extinction

Here come the regional commuter jets, the smooth-flying big brothers of the 30-passenger commercial turboprop planes that now serve the Sun Valley area.

The desire of commuter airlines to use regional jets for trips to Sun Valley should be no surprise to anyone who's watched the decades-long controversy over airport relocation, and now, airport renovation.

Service by regional jets is critical to the survival of Sun Valley Resort. The resort competes in an absolutely brutal marketplace in which it and area communities are annually outspent and out-marketed in the scramble for winter visitors.

Local businesses know that their own success depends on the success of the resort. That fact has never been more apparent than during the three-and-a-half-year period of recession the valley has experienced since 2008.

Also, consistent, comfortable and convenient air service is essential if the area is to have any chance of diversifying its economy or even continuing to be home to workers whose livelihoods come from businesses located outside the area.

Turboprops are being retired rapidly by the airline companies that operate them. Why they're being supplanted by regional jets is no secret.

The customer experience is one reason. Let's face it. While turboprops proved themselves over decades of service to be sturdy, safe little planes, they still sometimes frighten travelers uneasy about buffeting and the deafening noise of turboprop engines.

The engines sound like the plane warming up in the final scene of the famous 1942 movie "Casablanca." Occasionally, on a hot summer afternoon, turboprop passengers find themselves in a rodeo in which they're the ones on the back of a bucking bronco.

Today's travelers expect quiet, smooth and comfortable travel, not "Casablanca."

Efficiency is the second reason turboprops are being retired. Airlines have cut costs, shaved routes, packed planes and tried to do more with less to remain competitive in the nation's cutthroat, cut-rate quest for air passengers. Flying bigger regional jets that carry more passengers is one strategy airlines have adopted to survive.

Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey has to figure out how to accommodate regional jets. So far, the tea leaves that local leaders are forced to read to learn the intentions of the Federal Aviation Administration indicate that something can be worked out to keep the airport and the valley in business until some other option, perhaps relocation, becomes viable.

Unless the area wants a ticket to extinction, there's really no choice.

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