Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hurdle cleared for SkyWest jets

Spokeswoman says service could begin next spring


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A report released earlier this month by the Federal Aviation Administration said a switch by SkyWest from turboprop planes to a certain type of regional jet at Friedman Memorial Airport would have “no significant impacts” on the surrounding area.

The report was an environmental assessment conducted by aviation consulting firm Mead and Hunt for the FAA. The assessment is required by FAA rules before the administration can approve SkyWest’s application for a set of operational specifications that would allow the airline to fly the CRJ 700, a small regional jet, into and out of the airport in Hailey.

The process began earlier this year when SkyWest airlines expressed interest in replacing its turboprop Embraer 120 with CRJ 700 regional jets, which would result in fewer total flights coming into the valley without a loss in available seats. 

The report states that if SkyWest were to begin flying CRJ 700 aircraft into Friedman, flight frequency would drop from six daily flights in high season to three, but would add 220 seats annually. 

The Embraer 120 holds 30 passengers, while the CRJ 700 carries 65. The report also states that currently, 24,000 SkyWest seats on flights into the airport every year are vacant, and that the difference in the number of available seats is not expected to have an impact on the community.

The report also states that jet service is likely to be more reliable than service with turboprop planes. Though the report does not specify, Baird said in an interview that the regional jets perform better and faster than the current aircraft.

“The CRJ 700 is a super-performing aircraft,” he said. “The anticipation is that it will be able to descend lower in the future [below cloud cover, if needed] and still meet all FAA requirements for climb-out.”

Baird said the jet is also capable of flying faster, and therefore might have more time to wait on the ground for a break in the weather before a flight might be cancelled or diverted.

Brad Rolfe, spokesman for Mead and Hunt, said air quality is not expected to be impacted significantly by the jets, as the valley’s air quality is so good and the number of flights is so low that there is likely to be no significant change. 

Rolfe also said the overall impact of noise was likely to be less, due to the fact that the number of daily flights would be cut in half.

“There will be a slight reduction in total noise,” he said, but added that he did not know if the CRJ 700, as an aircraft, was quieter than the Embraer 120.

The report is available for public review and comment through Oct. 12, when Baird will collect comments and send them to the FAA. Comments can be sent to rick@flyfma.com or in writing to Rick Baird, Friedman Memorial Airport, Box 929, Hailey, ID 83333.

After all comments are submitted, the FAA will come out with a final environmental assessment. If approved, the report would be added to SkyWest’s application for an approval of operational specifications, which also must be approved before the CRJ 700 can begin flying into the valley. The operational specifications, if approved, would not give the green light to other airlines to fly the CRJ 700 into Sun Valley, nor would it allow other types of regional jets to begin using Friedman Memorial Airport.

Pate and Baird said that it’s up to the airline when the jet, if approved, would begin flying into the airport. Pate said it could be as early as next spring, but Baird was more hesitant to comment.

“It’s completely up to the company business plan when they start,” he said. “[The report] is another step in the process.”

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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