Faced with steepening odds of moving Friedman Memorial Airport 15 miles away from its current location, Hailey, Idaho, city and airport officials are reconsidering plans to do what local pilots had recommended all along—invest in the airport they have.
The airport authority has for six years been looking to relocate the airport because the existing field does not meet FAA design standards for operating Class 3 aircraft such as Bombardier Q400 turboprops used there by Horizon Air. The move could cost a total of more than $300 million, and AOPA and local pilots have urged members of the authority to focus on much cheaper solutions that would keep the airport in its current location.
“Studying options for the existing airport should have been done years ago rather than just abandoning the existing airport in favor of a new one much farther away from population and tourist centers,” said AOPA Vice President of Airport Advocacy Bill Dunn, who met with members of the airport community in Hailey in August.
Dunn told pilots and officials that all the aviation community was hearing from airport management was “what couldn’t be done” at the existing airport instead of what could be done. Rather than spending $300 million or more for a new airport, and placing a burden on local taxpayers, he said, they should study the existing airport and explore options that had not been considered before.
The shift in thinking came after the FAA notified airport officials Aug. 22 that it was suspending indefinitely the environmental impact study that would have to be completed before construction could begin: Growing cost projections, doubt in the ability of the local community to meet the federal funding match requirements, and the potential environmental impact on wildlife in the area made the move a less promising prospect. The FAA then held a public meeting in Hailey to discuss the reasons for suspending the EIS.
So officials went back to old plans, presenting two options that had been presented in the past in public meetings in late September. One would shift the runway to the south by 1,800 feet, and the other would shift the runway south by roughly a mile and changes the orientation slightly. Both options would be cheaper than building a new airport.
AOPA has long told the airport authority that they should study the existing airport in detail for options there rather than move to a site that was 15 miles or more away from the existing airport. The association wrote to the airport at the start of this process and appeared at one of the first public hearings to testify. If the airport were relocated, GA tenants would incur greater costs and have to travel farther to the new airport. In addition, the preferred site that was being studied is only accessible by a two-lane road that is subject to significant snow impact in winter.