Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Regional-jet report nearly complete

Public comment to open soon


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A report that could lead to Federal Aviation Administration permission for SkyWest regional jets to fly into Friedman Memorial Airport is nearly complete, waiting on one final review before it is released.

Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird told Blaine County commissioners Tuesday morning that the environmental assessment to allow SkyWest to fly the CRJ-700 into Hailey is waiting on a comment from the Federal Aviation Administration's legal department.

The comment had not been received as of press time Tuesday. However, Baird was optimistic that it would be received by the end of the day. "But it is the FAA," he said.

SkyWest has expressed interest in replacing its turboprop Embraer 120 with CRJ 700 regional jets, which would result in fewer flights coming into the valley. The number of seats could remain because the jets are larger.

The report includes some information from the draft environmental impact statement originally conducted for a replacement airport, which T-O Engineers spokesman Dave Mitchell said last month had helped smooth the process and speed up the report's release.

Baird said he hoped final FAA approval would be in place for the Tuesday, Aug. 7, evening meeting of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority. Once the report has been approved, the authority will set a schedule for public comment on the report and the possibility of regional jets flying into the valley.

The CRJ 700 has a seating capacity of 76 passengers as opposed to the Embraer 120's 30-passenger capacity. The wingspan of the CRJ 700 is larger than the Embraer, but smaller than the Bombardier Q400 currently operated at Friedman by Alaska Airlines.

Baird also spoke on the issue of a proposed ballot measure in Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley to levy a supplemental local option tax of 1 percent to help fund air service. The funds, an estimated $2 million if all cities pass the measure, would go to fund minimum revenue guarantees, which help secure flights in risky markets in which airlines would not ordinarily operate.

Baird said he hopes that the cities and the county will sit down together to work out a joint powers agreement for governance of the funds.

Currently, the municipalities are uncertain whether they wish to oversee administration of the funds themselves or delegate that authority to an outside organization such as Fly Sun Valley Alliance, which currently deals with minimum revenue guarantees.

"Since the time is short between now and when these measures need to be formalized I hope ultimately the cities and the county will sit down face-to-face," Baird said. "This could be one of the most important economic decisions the county has to make in the next few years."

The question must be submitted to the county for inclusion on the ballot no later than Sept. 7.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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