Friday, May 18, 2012

Sun Valley, Boise explore air access issues

Similar problems present shared opportunities between Boise, Hailey airports

Express Staff Writer

A Horizon Air flight is prepared for boarding at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey. Express file photo

As the Wood River Valley grapples with air access issues, many travelers look to Boise for alternate departure and arrival gates. But the Treasure Valley, too, is evaluating its own access issues, and community leaders there are seeking ways to ensure a strong future for Boise International Airport and the economic development it provides.

The Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce hosted an Air Service Summit on Tuesday in Boise to examine what it would take to expand air service to and from the Boise area as well as what the traveling public should—and should not—expect.

Aviation consultant Michael Boyd, president of Colorado-based Boyd Group International, said many people have an outdated idea about airports, thinking airports' value is in getting people out, rather than the extent to which they can get people in.

"That is the traditional view, and it's understandable," he said in an interview. "The real value of an airport is access from the rest of the world. That is the real metric in gauging the quality of the air service."

Getting people in from the far reaches of the globe is a lifeline to job creation, business expansion and economic development, he said.

"Access is the name of the game," he said.

Boise's air access, he said, "isn't really in a bad way."

Though the number of airlines servicing Boise is down from years past, the city's airport—about 150 miles from Ketchum—has five major airlines systems with access to nine connecting hubs. The more hubs, or gateways, an airport serves, the better, Boyd said.

He said Boise's maintaining air service benefits smaller communities such as the Wood River Valley because it acts as a "co-terminal" that provides additional options. That's increasingly important as airlines scrutinize routes and curtail or stop service to small communities.

Boyd said there's no guarantee that airlines will continue to serve the areas they do now. Besides rising costs and declining profits, airlines have to consider what routes to put their planes on and whether those destinations fit into their overall systems.

"We've got to conform to the airlines, not the other way around," he said.

He said travelers may have adjust to a changing definition of air service, which could come to mean service to a regional airport that requires driving from smaller communities.

"The days of air service to Idaho Falls, that's over," he said. "The days of air service to Billings, that's over. But you do have service to Shanghai and that's a lot more valuable."

However, he said that doesn't mean smaller communities such as Sun Valley should abandon air service efforts.

"The No. 1 focus is to get additional airport capacity in the valley," he said. "The work people are doing in Sun Valley to improve airport capacity should continue. It's important in keeping Sun Valley competitive in the ski industry. It's not a heavy growth industry, so every skier day counts.

"But don't lose track of the fact that you have another gateway in Boise. That will always be a co-terminal. I think that's the good side of it."

Former state Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, also a guest speaker at the summit, said there is "a lot of synergy" between the Sun Valley area and Boise that hasn't been explored as well as it could be.

"Certainly the frequency of service from the West, primarily, is a huge help to us," she told the Idaho Mountain Express.

Jaquet, recently elected to the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance board, is working with Fly Sun Valley Alliance on connections between the Sun Valley area and Boise.

"Boise is a very important gateway for us," said Carol Waller, executive director of Fly Sun Valley Alliance. "One of the opportunities for us is to get a much better handle on what is the impact of Boise as an air service gateway."

The alliance is discussing with Boise airport authorities the possibility of including a question in their passenger surveys about final destinations.

"It will give Boise some information on their customers from other areas, but it will also give us information on [Sun Valley area] visitors," Waller said. "We know there are visitors coming in through Boise. We don't have any idea how to quantify it."

Other cooperative efforts also are being pursued, she said.

"How do we collaborate on info that would get information that's helpful to both of us?" she said.

Rebecca Meany:

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