20-07-08 Friedman Airport 2 Roland.jpg

COVID-19 has cut both private and commercial flights into Friedman Memorial Airport.

The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority board approved a settlement agreement with Atlantic Aviation on Wednesday evening, directing the fixed-base operator to wire the authority $215,585 in past-due fees.

In February, according to airport Manager Chris Pomeroy, airport staff discovered inconsistencies in the way Atlantic Aviation had been collecting aircraft landing fees on behalf of the airport over the past five years. Pomeroy and attorney Jim Laski subsequently conducted an audit, made a demand for payment and negotiated the six-figure settlement with Atlantic for the under-collected landing fees.

Wednesday’s settlement also put into place a new agreement with Atlantic regarding aircraft parking fees in which Atlantic will retain 10 percent of revenue from overnight parking fees. Atlantic must send parking charge invoices to pilots of transient, or visiting, aircraft upon or after departure, the settlement says, and the remaining 90 percent of fees will be sent to the Airport Authority each month.

The board also approved a change to the airport’s rates and charges schedule in relation to its landing fees. Effective August 1, Virginia-based Vector Airport Systems will track incoming aircraft and their associated landing fees.

Currently, landing fees are assessed based on wingspan, approach speed and weight, Pomeroy said. The new collection system will be purely weight-based.

“We have a very uncommon coding system of tracking aircraft for landing fees,” he said. “These proposed changes break [planes] into different tiers based on weight, more in line with the industry standard.”

Starting in August, operators will pay $2.75 per thousand pounds for landing planes weighing up to 39,999 pounds; $3.60 for planes weighing up to 74,999 pounds; and $4.40 for planes over 75,000 pounds. (That means the operator of a small, 10,000-pound plane would be charged under $25 for landing, while the operator of a larger business jet maxing out the runway’s weight limit would need to pay over $500.)

Pomeroy said a crew from Vector Airport Systems will be installing cameras on the airfield early next week to keep better track of aircraft.

“Based on analysis performed by Vector, the new system will result in similar, if not minimally more, revenue collections,” he said.

Budget projects big loss

The Airport Authority board also reviewed a draft fiscal 2021 budget, scheduled for approval in August following a public hearing.

Pomeroy said the airport’s projected net income loss for fiscal 2021 is now around $2.42 million due to COVID-19. The pandemic has already dramatically slashed revenues flowing into the airport—car rental fees, tiedown and landing fees, passenger facility charges added onto ticket prices, concessions revenues from the terminal and interest revenues—and that same trend is anticipated in the fall. Pomeroy added that the cancellation of the Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference, which brings in significant revenue from landing and parking fees, will “definitely impact the airport’s financial outlook.”

“This is going to be an odd year,” he said.

SUN’s recent $11.4 million federal CARES grant will help buoy the budget, however, and will be applied to operational and maintenance expenses over the next three years.

Pomeroy reported that from a takeoffs-and-landings standpoint, the airport has been busy this summer, but activity levels are still below the same period last year.

“Numbers show that we were down about 10 percent in June compared to last year,” he said. “Over the holiday weekend, traffic was down about 17 percent.”

According to anecdotal reports from station managers for United, Delta and Alaska airlines, flights have been coming in “pretty full” since the summer season kicked off on June 22.

“But keep in mind when I say ‘full,’ airlines have a cap,” Pomeroy said. “Delta is at 60 percent capacity, United at 70 percent and Alaska at 60 percent.”

This week, Friedman Memorial Airport and Atlantic Aviation will post signs to inform travelers of Hailey’s and Ketchum’s new COVID-19 mask mandates.

“My understanding is all people have been wearing masks in the terminal area regardless,” Pomeroy said.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

Load comments