Friday, July 6, 2012

FAA changes scope of study

Analysis of airport layout to take 90 days

Express Staff Writer

Three airport-related studies are moving along, the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority reported during its Tuesday meeting, though one is taking a different form than originally thought.

Last month, members of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority approved a draft "scope of work" on an airport planning study, which T-O Engineers spokesman Dave Mitchell said would focus on problems with reliability and design standards for planes currently using the airport and in the immediate future, and will attempt to avoid expanding the airport's footprint.

The study was expected to take six months to a year and result in a plan for modifying the airport to bring it into compliance with C-II design standards, meaning that commercial planes with larger wingspans and faster approach speeds would be able to land without a waiver.

But Mitchell said during an Airport Authority meeting Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration has asked that the authority commission a shorter 90-day study that would not include reliability issues and simply lay out alternatives for design standard compliance.

Mitchell said the proposed study would include all alternatives for meeting FAA standards—everything from moving the highway and buying several houses in Woodside to not doing anything and applying for more modifications of standards.

But Mitchell said many of these alternatives would just be there for the sake of argument.

"Between those two is a spectrum of alternatives," he said, adding that in order to present a preferred alternative to the national headquarters of the FAA, the Seattle branch has to have reasons why extreme solutions, like moving the highway, might not be practical for the community.

"They need to have the, "It's going to cost $100 million and we can't do it [argument],'" he said. "They want us to put a number on moving the highway."

Don Keirn, a member of the Hailey City Council and the Airport Authority, said he didn't see the point in studying every alternative, especially one that would never be approved by the authority.

"It's not going to happen," he said of moving the highway. "So why should they spend time on that?"

But other authority members agreed that presenting the FAA with all options would be helpful.

"What I think we need and what I think the FAA is asking for is an objective presentation of all the alternatives," said Blaine County Commissioner and authority member Larry Schoen. "They obviously want the full set of alternatives and then will go about analyzing them."

Mitchell said that while this study seems different from the airport planning study that the authority had initially planned for, it really is a first step in the same direction.

"I do want to say this isn't a wasted effort," he said. "This is what we were going to do first anyway. This isn't a separate track where at the end of it we'll have to come back and start all over again."

The study will likely be funded through an FAA grant for which T-O Engineers is currently applying. Mitchell said the FAA has indicated that it is willing to fund the study.

Two other studies are currently in the works, the first of which is an environmental assessment of regional jet service to Friedman Memorial Airport. The study is needed before SkyWest can begin flying its CRJ 700 jets into the area.

Mitchell said the FAA has shared some information from the agency's draft environmental impact study that will smooth the process. A final report is expected within the next week, he said.

The other, which has been approved but not yet started, is an analysis of how to prevent market "leakage" from Friedman Memorial Airport to airports in Twin Falls, Salt Lake City and Boise.

Baird said it would be an ongoing study that would include airfare monitoring and an estimate of how much impact reducing that leakage would have on the economy.

Kate Wutz:

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