Small Idaho airport fails FAA standards

BURLEY, Idaho — The Federal Aviation Administration says a small southern Idaho airport doesn’t meet federal standards, and some locals fear the facility could close.

The Times-News reports that Federal Aviation Administration officials say a new $520,000 study to examine the J.R. “Jack” Simplot Airport in Burley and two possible relocation sites will be the last study they fund. The FAA grant for the study requires a match of about $37,000 from the city of Burley and a $20,000 match from the state.

Steve Englebrech, a civil engineer and project manager for the FAA, said both runways at the airport lack appropriate safety zones and graded emergency areas. They also lack obstacle-free zones at the end of the runways — those areas contain fences, railroad tracks, a highway, buildings and the Snake River. The 4,000-foot runways also fall short of FAA’s length recommendations.

If the airport isn’t moved or fixed, it could lose federal funding. That would mean the city of Burley would have to pick up the cost of operating the airport or close the facility down.

“I think it would be very problematic to the commerce of our area if the airport closed,” said pilot Kim Hansen, owner of Kim Hansen Chevrolet. “I’m very concerned as a businessman. We cannot lose our airport.”

Many people are unaware of how much commerce happens at the airport, with package deliveries and chartered flights for business people who need to be in Denver that afternoon, said Hansen, who uses the airport for recreational and business flights.

The city has already tried to find new airport sites, but previous attempts have been thwarted by land-use disagreements, mainly over agricultural land. This time, the FAA will review two sites further from the current airport, on poor farm ground near the interchange between Interstates 84 and 86, and on a parcel mainly owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The Burley Airport Users Association, formed by local pilots, can’t support either site, as both are remote and lack services, said association President Jack Hunsaker, a local business owner.

“If they put the airport at either of the sites, I’ll just start going to Twin Falls because the airport will be so difficult to access,” Hunsaker said.

Pilots would have trouble landing at the interstates interchange site because of crosswinds off Cottrell Ridge, he said.

The study will take about a year to complete.

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