HAILEY • There are a number of things that can be done to reduce the number of flights that must be diverted to Twin Falls from Friedman Memorial Airport during winter storms, a consultant told Airport Board members Thursday night.
But SkyWest and Horizon Airlines — the two commercial airlines serving the airport — have different approaches concerning how they’d best be served, he added.
The Airport Authority was forced to examine how to improve the present airport’s reliability after the Federal Aviation Administration backed away from studies examining the feasibility of relocating the airport south of its present site. The FAA blamed the impact the favored site would have had on sage grouse and the difficulty of attaining funding.
Increasing reliability would improve the airport’s stock, prompting the FAA to be more willing to put funds into it. It could also help Sun Valley attract additional flights from places like Denver, acknowledged Authority Board Member Ron Fairfield.
Dave Mitchell of T-O Engineers, listed several changes that could reduce the number of weather-related diversions in a lengthy, highly technical presentation. Among them: changing the minimum ceiling and visibility requirements, improving ground-based navigational aids, installing dual-approach localizers, utilizing approaches from the north when warranted and having missed approaches turn east instead of west.
Extending the runway from 7,550 feet to the ideal 8,200 feet would also make it easier for airlines to depart without decreasing their load on hot summer days when the temperature exceeds 86 degrees and the air is thinner, he added.
“I’m more concerned about getting people in. I’m not as concerned about getting them out,” said Airport Authority Chairman Tom Bowman, tongue in cheek.
The board directed Airport Manager Rick Baird to present the findings to the FAA for guidance about which option or options would offer the best return on their investment.
“The information tonight shows, yes, we can improve the reliability. If we can do that, we not only have the potential of receiving FAA funding but we can improve our diversion rate and visitor experience,” said Blaine County Commissioner and airport authority board member Angenie McCleary. “Now it’s time to go back to the FAA and tell them about what we learned. I don’t feel we can make one decision over another tonight.”