Construction on a celebrity-owned, private airstrip near Fairfield is expected to be finished in the coming weeks.
Mike Grbic, property manager for movie star Bruce Willis, said Willis is building a dirt runway, called Soldier Field Airport, about 10 miles east of Fairfield, in Camas County.
He said that when the runway is complete in about a month, it will measure 8,500 feet in length and 100 feet wide.
An overhead map filed with the Federal Aviation Administration indicates that the site will contain a vehicle- and aircraft-parking area. Entrance to the landing strip and parking area will be provided via an access road off U.S. Highway 20.
Work on the airstrip has prompted questions from some Camas County residents about the size and scope of the project, some of whom expressed concern that they were not allowed to comment on the plans through a public process.
Writer Judith Freeman—who since 1996 has owned a home on the Camas Prairie, near the airstrip site—said that she “hopes that anyone who intends to use the airstrip will consider the feelings of us who make this place our home.”
“Those of us who value the pristine quality of the prairie and its abundant wildlife deeply regret the building of the airstrip,” she said. “For me personally, it’s heartbreaking.”
Grbic said Willis wanted to make sure that locals were involved in the construction.
“We hired Galena Engineers to survey the site, and Sluder Construction is doing the work,” he said. “Bruce wanted to employ locals.”
Camas County Planning and Zoning Administrator Dwight Butlin said Willis’ airstrip is not the first to be built in the area and that the county does not have a hand in private air operations.
“The county has several other private airstrips, some with hangars,” he said. “The county does not regulate private airstrips under the current zoning ordinance.”
Butlin said that if the airport use changes from private to public use, the airport would have to be properly zoned and obtain a conditional-use permit, and any further site development would have to be approved by the county.
Mark Lessor, an aviation technician with the Idaho Transportation Department’s Division of Aeronautics, said private airstrips are only regulated by the FAA to ensure they are not interfering with airspace and operations at nearby airports.
“When someone wants to build a private airstrip, I tell them to check with the county first to see if there are any regulations,” he said. “Then, as a federal mandate, I tell people to fill out and submit a form 7480-1 so the FAA can conduct an airspace evaluation and determine impacts, if any, to any adjacent public-use facilities.”
He said that once an airstrip is approved by the FAA and built, its owner can request that it be charted on FAA maps, if the airstrip is located in an area where there is room allowed to include it.
The ITD likes to keep a list of private airstrips and airports statewide in case a plane goes missing.
“We can use our list to check in with private operations to potentially locate a missing plane that may have landed at a different site than previously planned,” he said.
The FAA gave its approval to the airstrip on April 11, providing that all operations there are conducted in visual flight rules weather conditions, meaning aircraft can only land and depart in conditions when pilots have enough visibility to ensure that their aircraft can operate safely.
FAA “conditional no objection” approval for Soldier Field Airport also mandates that all operations remain private.
In 2004, Willis offered to donate land in Camas County near Highway 20 for a potential relocation site for Friedman Memorial Airport, but the site was not chosen and the relocation effort later stalled.
Willis is building Soldier Field Airport through Ix-Nay Investment Trust, with which he bought several Hailey properties in the 1990s, including the shuttered Mint Bar and Restaurant.
Before taking over The Mint, he operated the Dynamite Lounge in Ketchum. He and his blues band, the Accelerators, performed there. Bette Midler and Tom Hanks danced there. Crooner Tom Jones sang for Willis’ 40th birthday party.
Willis also owned Soldier Mountain Ski Area, on national forest land near Fairfield, which he donated to the nonprofit Soldier Mountain Ski Area Inc. in 2012. The area was sold to an Oregon couple last year for $149,000.