Friday, December 7, 2012

Reliability at airport could improve

Airport Authority commissions feasibility study


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A SkyWest Airlines flight lands at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey. Photo by Mountain Express

The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority agreed unanimously on Tuesday night to have aviation consultants begin studying whether it’s possible to lower approach minimums at the airport.

Airport Manager Rick Baird said the staff recommended entering a contract with T-O Engineers, a Boise-based aviation consulting firm, and a Washington-based firm called Spohnheimer Consulting, to start a feasibility study for lowering minimums.

Approach minimums are the required height at which a pilot must be able to see the airport before landing. The minimum currently stands at 1,800 feet for a standard GPS approach, making it difficult for pilots to land at Friedman in cloudy weather.

However, other approaches can shrink the required “buffer” of space around an aircraft, lowering minimums without requiring substantial improvements to the airport or adjoining facilities.

Baird said Nelson Spohnheimer, founder of Spohnheimer Consulting, has conducted similar studies three times at Friedman. This study, however, would be different.

“[Spohnheimer] is going to take a different approach than he has in the past,” he said. “He is going to look at satellite, ground-based and standard procedures and see if there is a combination that might notably improve existing [minimums].”

Dave Mitchell, spokesman for T-O Engineers, presented suggestions for how minimums could be improved at a meeting in January. His suggestion at the time was for the airport to allow airlines to reduce minimum approach height by using more sophisticated GPS navigation equipment.

Ken Shapero, spokesman and director of U.S. programs for a division of GE Aviation, said his firm has studied approaches from the north that could bring minimum approaches down to 305 feet. Perry Solmonson, director of flight standards at Horizon Air, said that could increase the airline’s reliability to nearly 99 percent, as it would allow planes to dip below the clouds and spot the airport before executing a missed approach.

Baird said at Tuesday’s meeting that a comment from 2004 from the Federal Aviation Administration indicated that the agency felt it would be possible to develop an approach that would bring minimums down to between 800 and 900 feet.

“I think this [study] is worth the money,” Baird said. “Right now, we simply think we can improve minimums. This will bring some focus.”

Authority board member Susan McBryant said she was concerned that the study should have been conducted sooner and be tied in to one on alternatives for airport expansion. Baird said the study does not relate to the airport improvement plans, and will focus on the current airport.

“We are in the process of discussing with the FAA how you feel about [airport improvements],” he said. “The next question the community would like to know is, can reliability be improved at the current site?”

Baird said the study would give an idea of what can be done at the current site, not produce a specific procedure.

In other airport news:

  • Baird said he is scheduled to attend a Network USA conference in March in San Antonio, Texas. He said the conference is an annual gathering of major national airlines, representatives of which meet with airport staff and allow them to lobby the airlines for service. He said he is in the process of scheduling interviews with seven national airlines, including United Airways, Delta and American Airlines.
  • Candice Pate, spokeswoman for the authority, said she held a “successful” coffee talk last month in Bellevue. Three people, two of whom had attended before, showed up at Jesse’s Country Grill to discuss airport issues. Pate added that she and Baird have also met with the Ketchum-Sun Valley Rotary and answered questions regarding regional jets and airport expansion.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com

 




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