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FAA Says You Can't Move Mountains

Won't Approve Lower IFR Minimums At Hailey, Idaho

Sun Valley, Idaho, has long been one of the country's most popular ski destinations, and features beautiful scenery year round. But one thing Sun Valley doesn't have is an IFR approach, with lower minimums, to Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, and it's unlikely to get one.

In a 2 page memo released this week, the FAA ruled that terrain surrounding the field (read mountains) is the permanent, immovable obstacle to lowering altitude minimums for approaches. That has Hailey officials looking for someplace to put an airport that will meet FAA standards.

FAA's Western Flights Procedures Manager Jason Pitts wrote the memo. In it, he cited a number of reasons for disallowing the lowered minimums, but all had a common thread ... the terrain surrounding Freidman. He wrote that GPS-based navigation systems, often cited by those advocating for changing the minimums, cannot "change the terrain features surrounding SUN (Friedman's FAA designated code) that currently drive the existing minimums."

According to the Idaho Mountain Express and Guide, some 30 percent of scheduled airline flights at Friedman are cancelled or diverted due to weather. A major factor is the inability of some aircraft to execute a single-engine missed approach and still avoid the mountains north of the airport. Approaches from the north were requested, but Pitts wrote: "All possibilities were explored. Excessive precipitous terrain in the final approach segment makes an RNP (Required Navigation Performance) approach from the north impossible."

Friedman Manager Rick Baird said the FAA's decisions means that approach minimums will remain in effect, and flight cancellations and diversions due to weather will continue until a new airport is built. 

The proposed new field would have far lower approach minimums than Friedman, largely because the new site would be further away from those immovable mountains.

FMI: http://www.flyfma.com/

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