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Idaho airport joins lawsuit against FAA

By By Chris Cole
Published On: Mar 30 2013 12:23:51 AM CDT

Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey is joining a national lawsuit saying the FAA is jeopardizing the saftey of everyone at the airport by closing towers.

Pocatello, Idaho, Hailey, Idaho -

Airport managers across the country are not happy with the federal budget cuts to their air traffic controllers, and they're doing something about it.

For example, officials at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey has announced they are taking legal action against the Federal Aviation Administration to stop their tower from closing.

Four towers in Idaho are included in the 149 towers across the country  ordered to close because of recent across-the-board government spending cuts.

But on what grounds is Friedman Memorial Airport suing? Officials say closing the towers jeopardizes safety.

Friedman Memorial is joining a lawsuit filed by airports in Washington state, Illinois and Florida.

Friedman Airport officials say closure of their tower would impact airports across the state.

"Twin Falls will lose their tower, and Boise will reduce service down to 16 hours a day," said Friedman Airport Manager Rick Baird.  "This is not only going to have a huge impact not only on our community, it's going to have a huge impact on the state."

The lawsuit is going through a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

While Baird says that safety is the main concern, and the airport will still maintain a high level of safety, the problem comes from pilots having to guide themselves safely on and off the runway.

Baird says a busy airport like Friedman Memorial has no backup system in place to ensure the safety of everyone at, near and above the airport during a landing.

"The primary function of a tower is the safe, expeditious flow of traffic into and out of an airfield," Baird said.  "If the tower closes, no other organization on the airfield or near the airfield picks up that mission."

The airports filing the suits are asking for what are called stays. They are trying to get the FAA to do a complete check of their airport to try to show the agency that their towers are needed and the funding can't be cut.

"It might turn out that it's not the safe move to do at the cost/benefit ratio," stated Pocatello Airport Manager David Allen. "Perhaps towers can be saved under this method."

Allen says that he will meet with the Pocatello City Council soon to discuss options. While he says the lawsuits are simply delaying tactics, he also thinks that looking into funding the tower locally is not a viable solution.

"We're a little afraid to do that, because once you start funding it locally," Allen said, "we feel like it's solving the FAA's problem for them, and the political pressure will go away because there's no problem."

Baird says that the location of the airport and the land around it could cause serious problems. Looking at a map, the airport is squeezed in between mountains and high terrain, which could make it difficult to track other air traffic.

Breaking down the cost, the lawsuit from Hailey's airport will run anywhere from $16,000 to $30,000. The cost to run the tower for one month, however, would be $45,000.

Both Pocatello and Hailey airports are looking to lose five traffic controllers with the closure of the towers.

Idaho Falls and Lewiston are the other towers in Idaho that are set to close.

*In the video, it was written that five airport towers in Idaho will be closing.  There will actually be four.  We apologize for this error.

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