Friday, January 3, 2014

Airport proceeds with $34M construction project

United provides new service from San Francisco

Express Staff Writer

   Following unofficial government approval of planned airport safety modifications in June, Friedman Memorial Airport was on its way to being allowed to continue operations at its existing site until a new airport is built. Also in 2013, efforts by the Airport Authority board, airport staff, Sun Valley Co. and the nonprofit Fly Sun Valley Alliance brought air additional service to the Wood River Valley.
    “This is an exciting time for the community,” airport Manager Rick Baird said in early July. “Most of the controversy about what should be done with the airport has been vetted and resolved.”
    In response to several accidents related to inadequate runway safety areas, Congress in 2005 set a deadline of 2015 for compliance with federal standards for runway and taxiway sizes and spaces. However, Friedman Memorial Airport is within too confined a space to fully meet those standards.
    “In the past, the FAA said they would not entertain any modifications to the standards,” Airport Authority Chair Ron Fairfax said. “That forced the issue about building a new airport.”
    But after a plan for a new airport was indefinitely suspended in August 2011, the FAA began to consider modified ways to bring the existing airport into compliance with safety standards for ground operations. The decision was to undertake a $34 million multi-phase project that will relocate the airport’s taxiway and hangars to create more separation between planes using the runway and those on the taxiway.
    FAA Airport Improvement Program grants are expected to pay for $28.1 million worth of the work and private parties for $3.6 million to build new hangars, leaving the airport to come up with $2.3 million, mostly from the $4.50 passenger facility charges it receives from each airline ticket.
    The airport runway will be closed for 25 days next spring and again in spring 2015 to allow construction work to be carried out. The entire project is scheduled to be completed by July 2015.

East Coast service
    In September, Friedman Memorial Airport was awarded a $500,000 federal grant to fund a minimum revenue guarantee for expanded air service to the East Coast for one year.
    “This new service will have a huge and immediate impact on tourism and our local economy,” said Eric Seder, president of the nonprofit Fly Sun Valley Alliance board.    
    Fly Sun Valley Alliance Executive Director Carol Waller said the local partners will negotiate for the new service with United Airlines, which she said has “terrific connections” to East Coast airports and which submitted a letter of support with the grant application. She said those negotiations will include routes and a revenue guarantee cap.
    Waller said the local entities are free to negotiate with another airline if United doesn’t work out.
    Seder said the service could connect between Friedman and “potentially two new cities.” Candidates mentioned were Denver and Chicago.
    Waller said that if all goes as planned, the new service will begin in summer or winter 2014.
    On Nov. 5, voters in Ketchum and Hailey approved a 1 percent addition to their local option taxes to fund revenue guarantees.  Sun Valley voters had passed the measure in 20012. The additional tax is expected to raise about $2 million annually.

Delta jet service
    Later in November, Delta Air Lines announced that it will introduce jet service on its Sun Valley to Salt Lake City route beginning Jan. 6.  The flights will be operated by Delta Connection carrier SkyWest Airlines using 65-seat, two-class Bombardier CRJ-700s. The planes will replace the 27-seat Embraer-120 Brasilia turboprop currently in use.
    The change to a larger aircraft will add about 3,100 additional Delta seats into Friedman Memorial Airport in 2014, though with a reduction in the number of flights. The current schedule of six round-trip flights per day during the peak winter and summer seasons and three flights during off-peak times will be changed to three flights during peak seasons and two flights during off-peak times.

San Francisco service
    On Dec. 12, a planned celebration greeted the first nonstop United Airlines flight from San Francisco. The new service was negotiated through minimum-revenue guarantees of an undisclosed amount provided by Sun Valley Resort and Fly Sun Valley Alliance.
    The United Express flights are operated by SkyWest Airlines using a 66-seat CRJ 700 jet. They will run daily through March 30 for the winter and from July 2 through Sept. 23 for the 2014 summer season.
    “This inaugural flight is an exciting touchstone in history for the airport and our community,” Airport Authority Chair Ron Fairfax said.
Greg Moore:

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