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For the week of September 24 - 30, 2003


FAA rules accelerate airport’s game plan

Authority plans for enforcement

Public meeting today

The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority will hold a meeting today at 5:30 in the auditorium at the old Wood River High School to get public feedback on plans being produced by airport consultants. The authority will present plans that show what is necessary for the airport to reach the latest level of FAA compliance for an airport that allows traffic like the Horizon Airlines Dash 8 400Q.

Express Staff Writer

As a result of a new Federal Aviation Administration policy published in July 2003, airports are no longer assured control over how they do or don’t restrict aircraft.

Before July 1, the FAA’s policy allowed airports to adopt rules that could restrict aircraft based on weight restrictions, wing span and approach speed. In fact, it was considered an obligation to protect the integrity of the facility since most airports receive federal grants, said Denver attorney Peter Kirsch, who is representing Friedman Memorial Airport in a lawsuit involving California developer Ronald Tutor.

Tutor owns a Boeing 737 Business Jet that exceeds weight restrictions currently in place at the Hailey airport. Tutor’s suit was filed before the new FAA policy announcement, but argues that because Friedman, like many other airports, receives federal funding, he should not be restricted from landing in the Wood River Valley.

The FAA seems to agree. On Aug. 25, the FAA's Associate Administrator for Airports issued a decision on finding that the Naples Airport Authority action to ban stage 2 jets in Florida is inconsistent with the airport's grant assurance obligations. Airports in Teeterborough, N.J., and Santa Monica, Calif., are also in the cross hairs of FAA policy, said Kirsch.

Friedman has been working on airport improvements that are funded by the government, and is therefore also subject to similar judgments if it seeks to restrict access.

"How the proposed policy is enforced is the key issue," said Kirsch.

Prudent planning for whatever stance the FAA takes is also important, he said.

"We thought there was some flexibility," said Friedman Memorial Airport manager Rick Baird.

The airport has been working to achieve B3 certification, which allows aircraft that land at speeds more than 92 knots and less than 121 knots. The airport already allows planes from the next category, C3, which includes wingspans of 79 to 118 feet, such as the Horizon Airlines Dash 8 400Q.

The Dash 8 has 93-foot wing span and has a landing approach speed of 130 knots.

Some aircraft have wingspans as wide as 118 feet and land at 141 knots, said Baird. The 737 has a wingspan of 93 to 112 feet, depending on the model. But it is a much heavier plane.

Friedman authorities thought they might be able to exist with something less than a C3 airport because the biggest and heaviest of the jet class were not using the airport.

However, because the Dash 8 is using the airport and the airport is receiving federal funds, under a more stringent policy, the airport authority will have to change plans because it does not feel it could sell the community on the impacts conformance would require.

The uncertainty was made apparent to the airport authority in April, when Baird attended a Northwest regional FAA meeting in Seattle and heard more details about how the FAA intended to enforce the policy.

"There is some considerable concern that the FAA policy may make it difficult," Kirsch said. "But the issue is not going to be fought in the Wood River Valley. It will be fought somewhere else."

The Airport Authority will hold a special meeting tonight at 5:30 in the auditorium of the Old Wood River High School to address community concerns and get public comment.

The focus of the meeting is to give the public an opportunity to look at the latest planning work being presented by Minneapolis-based consultants Mead & Hunt, who have been helping the airport authority accommodate the needs of the airport and requirements of the FAA.

Proposals from the consultants for upgrades to the current airport that were requested will be available for the public to see. Authority representatives will also present plans that include possibilities for a new airport.

Moving the airport has been a possibility in the planning process since the 1970s, said airport authority attorney Barry Luboviski. "In my opinion the new FAA policy is ludicrous."



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