Friday, January 11, 2013

FAA gives green light to dual path

Bowman: ‘We should insist on relentless forward movement’

Express Staff Writer

Friedman Memorial Airport Operations Chief Pete Kramer walks the runway in Hailey on Wednesday. The current plan for airport improvement does not require rebuilding the runway, but would reduce the amount of space that Kramer and his crew can use for snow storage. Photo by Roland Lane

The Federal Aviation Administration has given the go-ahead for the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority’s proposed “dual-path” approach to solving the county’s air service problems.

Dave Mitchell, a spokesman from Boise-based aviation consultants T-O Engineers, said during a meeting of the airport authority Wednesday that the FAA has given preliminary approval of plans to bring the airport into compliance with runway safety standards.

The proposed approach would be to relocate and extend the airport’s taxiways and relocate airport hangars to bring the runway safety area into compliance with C-III standards.

The approach was developed as a response to a congressional mandate that requires airports that allow C-III planes to have a runway safety area that complies with C-III standards by 2015. Though C-III aircraft—such as the Horizon Air Q400 turboprop—currently fly into Friedman Memorial Airport, they are only allowed by special agreement with the airport control tower and the FAA.

The airport’s safety area must be at least 500 feet wide centered on the runway and be free of steep grades and bumps higher than 3 inches.

Mitchell said the plan presented by T-O Engineers and accepted by the FAA would first complete construction projects within the existing airport footprint, then look into expanding the airport and acquiring land to replace aircraft parking and snow storage that would be lost. 

State Highway 75 would not be significantly moved. Mitchell said planes with wingspans wider than 100 feet would not be allowed to operate at the airport. That would allow some C-III aircraft such as the Q400 and CRJ700 to operate at the airport without the letter of agreement, but would not allow large jets such as the Boeing 737-700 to operate at Friedman. 

Mitchell said the FAA has never before supported this in-between position, under which some but not all C-III aircraft can operate at the airport.

“[The FAA’s] position has always been, if you have C-III aircraft, you need to have C-III standards, period,” he said. “[But] there is a cap here. Those limitations are there. That’s important, and that’s a big deal.”

Airport Authority member Tom Bowman said he fully supported that approach, and he reassured Hailey Mayor and recently appointed Airport Authority member Fritz Haemmerle that no one on the board supported moving Highway 75 east into the Woodside neighborhood of Hailey.

“The county is not interested in any wholesale moving of the highway that would take out houses,” he said.

Baird said he has also been asked by the FAA to consider NextGen technology for aircraft, which would help improve reliability at the current site. NextGen is an FAA program that uses satellites and advanced GPS to reduce approach minimums, the height at which a pilot must be able to see the airport before making preparations to land.

But while improvements are being made at the current airport, T-O Engineers will be planning for a replacement airport. Mitchell said the FAA would fund a siting study to find a spot for a new airport. That would require terminating the environmental impact study on two sites in Blaine County that was suspended in August 2011.

Baird said the project at the existing airport would “compete well” for federal grants, and both Bowman and Haemmerle urged expediency.

“We need to move forward,” Bowman said. “We should insist on relentless forward movement.”

The next meeting of the airport authority is scheduled for Feb. 12.

Kate Wutz:

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