BURLEY – Burley businessman and pilot Jack Hunsaker met with the Burley City Council earlier this month, asking them to leave the airport where it is. Hunsaker is the newly elected president of the Burley Airport Users Association (BAUA) a coalition of aircraft owners and other interested individuals who want a seat at the table for any decisions relating to the closing or relocation of the Burley Municipal Airport.
In a prepared statement for the meeting, Hunsaker said his airport users voted unanimously to lobby for the airport to remain as is, where it is. He said that the airport is safe when used for the types of aircraft it was designed for. He also focused on the economic benefits of leaving the airport where it is.
Speaking of the “multiplier effect” on jobs and income, Hunsaker cited studies that prove every dollar spent at the local airport adds another $2.53 to the local economy. He also spoke about the safety of flying, and reminded the city council that they are much more likely to die in an auto accident than in an airplane crash.
Light jets regularly fly in and out of the Burley Airport, and are doing so safely and efficiently. This in spite of the city saying jets aren’t able to take off or land here. Weather conditions can impact flight operations everywhere, Burley included, but by and large the current airport configuration serves the flying community quite well.
The airport users want the city to do a better job of operating the municipal airport, including an updated pilot’s lounge and weather and flight planning area. Navigation lights at the airport are in need of repairs, as is the public restroom, which was so filthy when Governor Butch Otter’s wife Lori Otter flew into town last year that she refused to use it.
At the present time the City of Burley is looking at two airport sites. The first is near the I-84 / I-86 junction east of Declo while the second is west of Paul. Neither site will be convenient, say pilots.
In the winter, Burley snow plows take care of the airport first and do city streets second. Changing the airport’s location will push it so far out of town it will be difficult to use city crews to maintain it. Speaking on safety, Hunsaker reminded the city council that they needed to consider pilot safety. Should an aircraft need emergency services at either of the proposed airport sites it would take upwards of twenty or more minutes before help could arrive, compared to about two minutes at its present location.
Life flight operations involve as many as fifty flights out of Burley’s airport each year, but changing its location would cause considerable delays due to the distance from the hospital. Fixed wing air ambulances can operate in weather conditions that ground helicopters, but this advantage would be taken away if the airport is moved, say pilots.
One huge advantage of leaving the airport where it is deals with the existence of two runways. Wind speed and direction have significant impacts on aircraft. Crosswind landings are more difficult, if not impossible, at higher wind speeds. Since Burley’s current airport has two runways, pilots can operate in windier conditions than they could at a newer, single runway airport.
Funding a new airport will prove the biggest barrier for the city to overcome. Federal funds are available for much of the $16 to $20 million cost, maybe as much as half, but local taxpayers will be asked to step up and pay the balance. Previous city councils have said they could not support the airport going forward without financial partners, and to date, not a single Mini-Cassia city or county has signed on. The current council is not bound by previous council decisions, but without financial partners, the city’s $8 million to $10 million cost will be borne by its citizens alone.
Hunsaker’s presentation included a list of the companies currently using the Burley Airport. That list includes: UPS, ATC Communications, Arrowhead Potato, Dot Transportation, Les Schwab, Kings, Smiths, McCain Foods, Kim Hansen Chevrolet, Pacific Ethanol, Loves, Pasco Farms, Simplot and Hunsaker’s company, Double L Manufacturing.
Councilman John Craner asked Burley’s former mayor and current City Economic Development Director, Doug Manning, if he could think of any businesses that did not locate here due to the restrictions at the airport. He said “no.” Craner next asked Manning if the city had promised any industrial customers we would build them a new airport. Again, he answered “no.”
Without action to stop the process, the City of Burley will continue to spend money on environmental and site studies. These costs total well over $100,000 to date, and will continue to go up until such day arrives that taxes are levied to pay for it or the city council votes to stop spending money trying to move it.
One spray-plane pilot says the irony of the way the airport is funded is that only one pilot resides within the Burley City limits. All others live outside the city limits; yet, it is the residents of Burley who will carry all of the financial burdens of relocating the airport.
Anyone wishing to participate in the Burley Airport Users Association may e-mail its president, Jack Hunsaker – firstname.lastname@example.org – for more information.