Friday, August 14, 2009

Valley should have two airports


In spite of the fact that "safety" was not mentioned or discussed in the last Friedman Memorial Airport Authority meeting, the headline "Friedman will close for Safety Reasons" (Aug. 7 issue) is disingenuous at best. In fact, Friedman has an excellent safety record.

I agree that we need a new airport, for the airlines. The new location will be fine for the airlines but will be a disaster for general aviation (all aviation other than airlines and military).

General aviation is a significant economic force in the Wood River Valley. It is assumed by some that general aviation will move to the new site. Based on my experience as a pilot for 60 years, I disagree. General aviation is all about access and convenience. A government- and TSA-run airport 35 miles away in a frequently fog-bound valley will not appeal to most general aviation pilots. Most general aviation pilots fly VFR (visual flight rules) or limited IFR (instrument flight rules). They are good pilots but they do not fly professionally and would not choose to make a low instrument approach to have a ski weekend.

Also, there are many people like me who moved here precisely because we have a well-run, convenient general aviation airport. This draw will disappear after the closure of Friedman and these people will look elsewhere to more aviation-friendly communities.

Hailey politicians say we cannot afford two airports. I suggest we cannot afford not to have two airports. We are sometimes compared to Steamboat Springs, Colo. When they built an airline-capable airport at Yampa, the airline traffic to the resort increased. What is not mentioned is that they saved the small town airport for general aviation and that also increased. I flew there frequently in the 1960s when I was in the Air Force. The town airport is the base for over 120 airplanes plus many more transients. Only seven are based at Yampa, 22 miles away.

There is a problem at Friedman with the long-winged Q400 and the Gulfstreams. These operations are only 2 percent of the flight activity at the airport, but that is all we seem to talk about in meetings. This is not a reason to close Friedman. These operations should move to the new site. Also, the north runway threshold could be moved south. That would shorten the runway and move operations farther from Hailey. It would remove the larger jets but still leave adequate runway for general aviation operations. These are details that the naysayers will jump on. The point is, let's study it rather than reject it out of hand as the current airport authority board does.

We have a tremendous asset in Friedman Memorial Airport. To destroy it would be economic suicide. When I first came to the Wood River Valley, there were two airports (Friedman and Gimlet), a railroad and a road. After 2016 there will only be access through a south valley speed trap. Does this make sense for a resort community?

We should take a page from Nut Tree Airport in Solano County, Calif. Like Steamboat Springs, they have promoted their 4,700-foot general aviation airport into a tremendous economic plus for the community.

If current plans prevail, we will be the U.S. resort farthest from a general aviation airport.

David Dingman lives in the Hailey area.

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