Friday, November 16, 2012

Could some airport modifications be too effective?

Commissioners worry some fixes could compromise replacement plan

Express Staff Writer

The Horizon Air Q400 turboprop, above, currently flies in and out of Friedman Memorial Airport under a special agreement that certain safety precautions will be observed. Airport officials are exploring ways to make the field fully compliant with federal standards. Photo by Mountain Express

Choosing certain alternatives for a modified airport layout could jeopardize the future of a replacement airport, county commissioners and airport leaders said on Tuesday.

Blaine County commissioners met with Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird and Friedman Memorial Airport Authority Chair Tom Bowman on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the costs and benefits of seven options for meeting Federal Aviation Administration guidelines at the current airport site.

T-O Engineers spokesman Dave Mitchell presented a final draft of the alternatives at an Airport Authority meeting last week before presenting the draft to the FAA. The alternatives were developed as a response to a congressional mandate that requires the Hailey airport to have a runway safety area that complies with C-III standards by 2015.

Though C-III aircraft—such as the Horizon Air Q-400 turboprop—currently fly into Friedman Memorial Airport, they are only allowed by special agreement with the airport control airport and the FAA.

Modifications to the airport at the current site are meant to be short-term, to keep commercial air service going until a replacement airport can be built somewhere in the future.

But both Baird and Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said that if the Airport Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration chose to go forward with any of the first four alternatives—alternatives that bring the airport into compliance with all C-III standards, not just the runway safety area—the need for a replacement airport would be completely eliminated.

“[Options] one through four mean there is no replacement airport,” Baird said. “That is the replacement airport.”

Greenberg pointed out that if the county expressed support for any of those alternatives—including the fifth alternative, which does not comply fully with C-III standards— it might indicate an unwillingness to consider a replacement airport in the future.

“If we fix the airport to a degree that nothing else needs to be done, it could be presumed that we won’t go with a new airport,” he said.

Bowman said that he agreed as well, adding that options one through four were long-term solutions and contrary to the goal of modifying the airport, which was simply to maintain service until a replacement could be built.

Options one and two contemplate moving the highway in order to make room for expanded safety areas around the runway; option three contemplates moving the runway and rebuilding the terminal and other airport facilities. Option four would mean moving the runway south and rotating it to the southwest, and might also require moving hangars and the terminal. Option five would shift the runway 1,700 feet south onto the adjacent Flying Hat Ranch.

Baird said it is likely that all five of the alternatives would require detailed environmental analysis, which would delay the start of the project and make it unlikely that the projects would be completed by the December 2015 deadline.

Greenberg was joined by Bellevue City Councilman Dave Hattula, who argued during public comment that the county and the Airport Authority could narrow its focus to alternatives six and seven. Those options are the least expensive, and also require only minimal land acquisition at the most—and no shifting of the highway.

“As a City Council, we have declared that our ultimate support is for a replacement airport south of Bellevue,” he said. “I would hope that at the next [Airport Authority] meeting, these first four options can be eliminated. It seems like a no-brainer to me.”

McCleary said that the county would continue to discuss the issue at its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Kate Wutz:




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