Friday, May 16, 2014

Sun Valley air traffic is up

Officials say new flights boost winter numbers

Express Staff Writer

Crews at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey unload baggage from a United Express flight from San Francisco last winter. Photo by Roland Lane

    A 28 percent rise in available seats on commercial airplanes flying to Sun Valley has brought an increase in air traffic at Friedman Memorial Airport.
    According to data provided by the airport, 23,199 airline passengers flew out of the airport from January through April, a 16 percent increase over the same months last year.
    The period included a new United Express route between Sun Valley and San Francisco, inaugurated in mid-December and offering daily flights during winter and summer. It also coincided with the introduction of 65-seat jets by Delta Airlines in early January. The jets replaced 28-seat turboprop planes and added 3,100 seats each way between Sun Valley and Salt Lake City for the 2014 schedule, though with a reduction in flights.
    Over the past decade, the airport had been on a downward trend in terms of both seat availability and enplanements. Annual availability dropped from just over 140,000 in 2003 to about 70,000 in 2012. Enplanements dropped from nearly 80,000 in 2003 to about 55,000 in 2012.
    “The indications are that we’ve turned things around from an air service perspective,” airport Manager Rick Baird said. “This will indicate to the Federal Aviation Administration that making investments at this site will have a great return.”
    The FAA is funding 94 percent of a $34 million construction project under way at the airport to bring it into compliance with federal safety standards. The project is scheduled to be completed by July 2015.
    The ratio of available seats to purchased seats this winter results in a 74 percent “load factor,” better than the previous five-year average of about 64 percent.
    “To have a 74 percent load factor with new service and a new market—I think that’s astounding as well,” Baird said.
    Fly Sun Valley Alliance Executive Director Carol Waller called it “good overall for the season.”
    “We know we had challenges with the snow and business overall,” she said.
    Revenue at the airport during the first six months of fiscal year 2014 totaled $1.1 million, a 6.7 percent increase over the same period in fiscal 2013. Expenses this year were $1.14 million, a 6.8 percent increase over the first six months of 2013. According to the airport’s analysis, the increase was due to unanticipated and unbudgeted expenses for terminal upgrades to accommodate the new United Express flights. Without the upgrade expenses, the airport stated, total expenses would have been lower than in 2013.
    The airport document states that year-end expenses should be within budget.
    Revenue from landing fees for private planes during the first six months of fiscal 2014 was 15.4 percent higher than during the same period in 2013.
    The airport runway was closed April 28 for 25 days to permit relocation of the southern half of the western taxiway to create more space between the taxiway and the runway.
    Baird said Thursday that the work is on schedule and the runway is still scheduled to reopen May 22 at noon.
    “Western Construction has certainly done an absolutely unbelievable job,” he said.

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