Updated: February 24th, 2009 12:37 PM

Who will govern a new airport?

Interested parties wrangle for positioning in ongoing discussions


With two listening meetings now under its belt, the six-member Blue Ribbon Commission asking for ideas on how a new airport should be governed is headed for a third public session for more views on running a replacement facility for Friedman Memorial Airport. The meeting is set for March 4 in Hailey City Hall. A time has yet to be set.

In the second of a series of listening meetings on Feb. 18, the committee representing valley cities and Blaine County heard from general aviation pilots and a Denver attorney who's studied the governing structures of airports.

During the session in Ketchum City Hall, committee chair Tom Bowman, chairman of the Blaine County Commission, interrupted to suggest there may be a need and place for two bodies for a new airport, one to advise on the design and construction of a new field and then a permanent board to govern and set policy for the facility.

The blue ribbon panel makes no decisions. Instead, it will be hearing from various interest groups before making a recommendation on what type of airport board should run a new airport tentatively designed for construction in southern Blaine County east of state Highway 75.

In lead-off statements at the last meeting, Jim Perkins, president of the Blaine County Pilots Association, and Jay Hagenbuch, co-owner of a Sun Valley Air Lear 60 charter jet operating out of Friedman Memorial Airport, said that general aviation pilots would like to have a hand in picking a representative for the airport's governing board. General aviation, which includes small aircraft as well as large corporate jets, generates about 30 to 50 percent of Friedman's revenues through landing fees, fuel charges and tie downs, according to Friedman Memorial data.

Presently, a pilot and aircraft owner, Dr. Ron Fairfax, is a member of the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority.

Talking gingerly around the issue, Perkins said, "No reflection on the current representative (Fairfax), the way he's elected sometimes (makes him) hold back because he's worried he might not be re-elected."

Bowman corrected Perkins: Fairfax isn't elected, but appointed.

How about if general aviation interests were asked to nominate a general aviation member for the airport board? asked Bowman.

"We would consider that," Perkins said.

In response to a question from Sun Valley Mayor Wayne Willich, Perkins said the 130 pilot members of his group are a diverse collection of recreation and business pilots.

For his part, Hagenbuch said operators of larger jets have a single priority: "We don't want to end up with an airport that doesn't work for privately owned aircraft." He said that a "significant portion of our economy is heavily supported by second-home owners" with aircraft who, he said, "have been underrepresented" in airport decision-making.

(General aviation had representatives on the citizens site selection committee that pared down likely sites for a new airport: Blaine County Pilots Association, Sun Valley Aviation (now Atlantic Aviation) and aircraft charter operators.)

In final statements, attorney Daniel Reimer, of the Denver firm of Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell, explained he has devoted his practice to aviation for the past 11 years, including a special study of how airports in the U.S. are governed by cities, counties, states and city-county arrangements.

"There's some evidence," Reimer said, "that airport authorities are more financially efficient than airports run by general purpose governments." A five-member authority governs Friedman. Reimer's firm also has been special legal counsel to Friedman.

One of the panel's members, Ketchum City Councilman Charles Conn, also a pilot, introduced a pie chart showing that 79 percent of the assessed property values in Blaine County lies in Ketchum, Sun Valley and northern Blaine's unincorporated area.

"It's not so much that houses are worth more," Conn said, but residents of that area "are nervous about location of an airport and afraid we will be cut out of decisions."

Conn also seemed to resurrect claims made in the past by saying "the FAA gives waivers," hinting that Friedman Memorial's fate isn't sealed and with an FAA waiver might continue to operate.

FAA officials have said in several public meetings no waiver would be granted Friedman, declaring that it was not designed to handle larger aircraft now using it, such as Horizon Air's Q400 and larger corporate jets such as the Gulfstream V and the Bombardier Global Express, plus surrounding terrain problems.

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