Friday, July 13, 2012

Smooth-ish sailing for local flights

Wind, smoke did not cause diversions


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Private jets are parked wing to wing next to the private terminal at Friedman Memorial Airport Wednesday afternoon. Photo by David N. Seelig

Winds, wildfire smoke and ground delays did not prevent commercial and private flights from arriving and departing at Friedman Memorial Airport this week.

Airport Manager Rick Baird said Wednesday that despite rumors, no commercial flights were canceled so far this week due to traffic from the Allen and Co. conference—an annual meeting of media and technology executives in Sun Valley whose private jets help contribute to the airport's busiest week of the year.

"Last year, we had 320 operations on the event's beginning day, but remember that last year we had the event arrival day following the Fourth of July," Baird said. "This time, there was a weekend between."

This year, Allen and Co. arrival day saw 267 operations at Friedman, which Baird said may actually be more activity than usual if there was a large amount of Fourth of July traffic in last year's figures. The average number of operations per day in July post-Allen & Co. conference is 150.

Dealbook, a business blog for The New York Times, reported Wednesday that a dozen private jets were diverted to the airport in Twin Falls due to multiple wildfires in the region that created smoke.

But Mike Rasch, manager of Atlantic Aviation's private terminal at Friedman Memorial Airport, said as far as he knew the smoke didn't cause any diversions.

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"Some pilots reported that it was smoky out there, but I don't believe it prevented any aircraft from getting in," he said.

Baird said the confusion may have arisen from the fact that the airport was put on a ground delay program by the Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control center in Salt Lake City, partially due to traffic and partially due to weather, including smoke here.

SkyWest commercial flights were only delayed by a few minutes Tuesday, but some private jets were delayed by an average of an hour and 20 minutes at peak traffic times.

Baird said that some of the jets he had expected at Friedman did choose to land in Twin Falls—but of their own free will, not due to any airport-related diversion.

"We certainly never had to get to the point where we had to turn people away," he said. "Some of the people who wanted to come here ended up in Twin, [but] I think it was primarily people who couldn't accept the delay."

As of Wednesday night, Baird said it was unlikely that the airport would get so full that he would have to turn people away and refuse them overnight parking. Room has been tight in the past few years, but Baird said the airport didn't turn anyone away last year.

"Based on circumstances, either someone didn't come that we thought was going to, or someone departed, we were able to provide overnight parking," he said. "[This year], it looks like we won't have to turn anyone away."

The Allen & Co. conference is set to continue through Saturday.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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