HAILEY, Idaho (AP) — Central Idaho officials say they’ll seek an injunction to prevent the federal government from shutting down the air traffic control tower at the airport though which tourists pass on their way to the resort areas of Ketchum and Sun Valley.
The Idaho Mountain Express reports (http://bit.ly/169cg1t) that the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority on Wednesday made the decision. It’s unclear when the legal action will be taken.
Airport Manager Rick Baird said funding for the tower is scheduled to end May 5.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s final list of 149 air traffic control facilities that will be closed at small airports around the country starting April 7 contains four in Idaho. Besides Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, they are the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport in northern Idaho, and Pocatello Regional Airport and Idaho Falls Regional Airport in eastern Idaho.
The FAA is under orders to trim hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget. The closures, announced March 22, will not force any of the airports to shut down, but pilots will have to coordinate takeoffs and landings over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers.
Baird told airport officials that a representative from Horizon Air said the company can fly into Friedman without a manned tower, but service could be compromised.
“I was told they do fly into untowered airfields,” he said. “However, they said we could expect they would encounter more delays and more cancellations.”
Baird also said the FAA hasn’t told him whether Horizons’ Q400 aircraft will be permitted to operate at the airport if it didn’t have a manned control tower.
“We need a tower for safe and efficient use of our airport,” said Airport Authority Chair Ron Fairfax. “We might even need a tower to continue to have air service, period.”
The airport faces additional problems. The FAA said the airport should be improved or moved because expanding residential areas and high hills make the current airfield too dangerous for larger aircraft. But an estimated cost of more than $300 million to move the airport has stalled that plan.
It’s unclear how the loss of the air traffic control tower could affect operations at the current airport that’s surrounded by high hills and residential areas.
Other factors include residents who have complained about noise, and businesses to the north concerned about the potential loss of commercial service and the economic damage to Blaine County.