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For the week of February 14 through 20, 2001

Horizon considers new turboprops;

SkyWest is planning `all-jet fleet’

When asked what an all-jet fleet would mean for SkyWest’s flights into Hailey, she said, 
"I don’t think we’ve specifically crossed that bridge." 

Allison Gemmell, SkyWest director of marketing

Express Staff Writer

Amid local concern about the future of airline service to the Wood River Valley, a Horizon Air spokesman said this week the airline has tentative plans to begin flying new, larger, faster turboprops into the valley beginning this summer.

Pending delivery from the manufacturer, Horizon’s plans call for the 70-seat Bombardier Q400 turboprops to operate here during the peak summer season through September and during the peak winter season from mid-December through March.

The smaller, 37-seat Q200 that Horizon currently uses to serve the area would continue to operate during spring and autumn slack seasons.

That news may help alleviate fears of some that new jet technology may eventually attract airlines away from flying turboprops altogether.

Called regional jets, the new small, fast, economical planes are attracting airlines like SkyWest away from flying the slower, less comfortable turboprops that have traditionally served the Wood River Valley.

The recent fervor over regional jets and claims that they can’t land and take off in Hailey raise questions about the future of the Wood River Valley’s regularly scheduled air service.

SkyWest, Horizon’s only regularly scheduled competitor in the Wood River Valley, announced Jan. 15 that it has ordered 64 Canadair regional jets to be delivered between mid-2002 and December 2004.

Alison Gemmell, SkyWest director of marketing, said during a telephone interview last week that the order is part of SkyWest’s plans to move to an "all jet fleet."

When asked what that would mean for SkyWest’s flights to Hailey, she said, "I don’t think we’ve specifically crossed that bridge."

However, she said, "considering your airport restrictions and runway restrictions…[regional jets] cannot operate in your valley."

She said SkyWest planned to phase out all of its existing turboprops in the next decade, but new jet technology might allow regional jets to serve Hailey by then.

SkyWest chief pilot Jim Breeze agreed. In the next 10 years, new higher horsepower engines may be available for the 70-seat regional jets, allowing better climbing capability needed for taking off in the mountains with full loads, he said. And, new "leading-edge devices" that allow slower landing speeds, and a shorter runway, might be available.

A renovation of the Hailey airport now in progress may result in a 350-foot runway extension available for take-offs. However, Breeze said, the added distance would have "very little" effect on the ability of regional jets to take off.

"The real problem with [the Hailey airport] is we can only land to the north and take off to the south," he said, due to the mountains. The restrictions limit pilots’ options to cope with different wind conditions. If planes could land and take off in both directions, that might allow them to overcome the other problems.

Airlines’ focus on regional jets has affected other mountain resort towns.

The Jackson Hole News recently reported similar concerns about SkyWest’s switch to regional jets. Jackson Hole’s airport presents the same problems for regional jets that Hailey’s airport does.


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