FAA Must Accept As-Yet-Unspecified Operational Changes
Regional jets could be approved for use at Friedman Memorial
Airport (KSUN) in Hailey, ID before the end of 2012, if
yet-to-be-specified changes to the airport's operating procedures
are accepted by the FAA. Currently, SkyWest operates turboprop
Embraer Brasilia 120 planes from the airport, but the airline has
started transitioning from these planes to larger regional jets in
some markets. Airport Manager Rick Baird said in a news release
that the possibility of SkyWest adding regional jets to its Sun
Valley fleet was broached during a meeting with the airline on Nov.
The Friedman Memorial Airport Authority voted to begin the
processduring its Tuesday meeting. If accepted, the changes would
allow Horizon Air's Bombardier CRJ700 and CRJ900 and SkyWest's
Embraer E-175 jet aircraft to land at Friedman.
The request must undergo a rigorous review by the FAA to
determinewhat operating procedures would be necessary to provide an
adequate level of safety. Baird said the procedures might be
similar to those required when Horizon Air's Bombardier Q400
aircraft are being operated at the airport--such as clearing the
taxiways when a plane is landing or taking off. "What we're talking
about with the regional jets is that they are [aircraft categories]
C-II or C-III," Baird said, which means they have a larger wingspan
and faster approach speeds than do the commercial planes allowed to
land at Friedman under standard procedures.
The FAA has recently rolled out a more complicated process of
administering safety standards called a "safety management system."
The process kicks in whenever a change to operational standards is
requested, such as adding another nonstandard aircraft, though the
new system will eventually be required at all airports. It requires
a panel ofexperts from the FAA and the Airport Authority to meet
and discuss potential risks and solutions.
Dave Mitchell, consultant with T-O Engineers, told authority
boardmembers that he recommends beginning the process sooner rather
than later--and before airlines actively request adding regional
jets to their operations at Sun Valley. "You need to know that
[those] aircraft can operate here," he said, adding that the
authority also needs to be aware of what improvements the FAA would
require to minimize risk. "If the mitigation is thatyou have to
move the highway, that changes things."
The evaluation comes at a critical time for Friedman Memorial
Airport. Airport and county leaders have been working with the FAA
to determine whether Friedman should be relocated, but the process
was put on hold because of concerns about skyrocketing costs and
environmental impacts. A letter to the FAA approved by the board
Tuesday states that the alternative operating procedures to allow
use of the airport by the regional jets would be only temporary
while the board "evaluate[s] thelong-term future of the
Airport Authority board member Ron Fairfax said he supports the
request, if only because he'd prefer to know as soon as possible if
regional jets could ever be approved. "It's always scary asking a
question you don't know the answer to," he said. "This will be a
big question ... but it has to be asked."
SkyWest officials said they feel confident the airline could safely
operate from Friedman for service to Salt Lake City and possibly
nonstop to Denver.