As Don wraps up his final month as chairman of the FMAA board, we recap the time he spent contributing to the airport’s growth and development.
Don was first appointed to the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority board in 2011. Previously, Don was the economic development director for Boise, where a large portion of his job involved being the liaison for Boise airport. As the Economic Director, a few high points that Don noted were bringing Southwest Airlines to Boise, along with increasing the number of businesses in the airport to improve the economic impact. Don had the experience, drive and charisma to take on his role at FMAA.
But, let’s take a step back. Don first came to the Wood River Valley after Kaiser Steel Corporation went out of business and was piecemealed off. At the time, Don and his wife decided to look for an investment in the Valley. They wound up owning a property management company for about five years. As it turns out, this wasn’t their dream job. However, it was rather serendipitous that the mayor of Boise was looking for an economic development director. Don and his family called Boise home for the next 10 years.
Once they were back in the Wood River Valley, Don became a Hailey city council member where he served for 17 years and was a large asset to the city and the airport. Like others, we asked Don about the changes he’s witnessed both at the airport and in the Valley. He said when he first moved to the Valley, the airport seemed pretty busy — or so he thought. But as time went on, and the first discussion of relocation came up, the community became heavily involved. The airport became busier and busier. While Don’s stint on the board only saw a few months of conversation about relocation, he vividly remembers those times.
Prior to his tenure on the board, the relocation meetings would pack the high school gymnasium with vocal community members — those who wanted the airport to stay, those who wanted to see the airport go, and those who were indifferent but wanted to be a part of the conversation. In 2011, the FAA came to the board and essentially called off the airport relocation. There were two main reasons the relocation was revoked: one, the environmental impact on the sage grouse population (in the location they were looking to move to); and two, the large increase in costs.
However, because of the anticipated airport relocation, the airport had to undergo significant and immediate improvement. As of today, these improvements are nearly complete. Don says that unlike many other airports, we’re in a unique spot being both county and city owned. Because of that, we don’t see as much funding as many other airports do and we (the board and airport employees) have to run the airport like a large business. To increase the airport’s revenue, it requires capital improvements and money spent.
We asked Don about the successes he’s seen while on the board and as chairman. He noted that the growth in our commercial flight schedule and the increase in our nonstop cities have enhanced the airport and our overall economic impact in the Valley. One of his favorite parts of working on the board has been engaging with the great employees and the airport’s staff. “It’s fun to go and visit with them and have the opportunity to work together.”
Lastly, we asked Don what he’d like to see happen at the airport in the next few years: “We have constraints out there, and there is really no way around that. We can only handle so many commercial air flights due to our location; summer and winter seem to make that even harder because of the weather.” With that in mind, Don would like to see relationships maintained with the airlines and destinations while working together, in an orderly manner, to bring in other airlines.”
Don also noted that, “it’s an airport, and airplanes are noisy — that’s a given. We do have these voluntary restrictions on times of the day and everything like that. Roughly 90% of pilots are obeying. We are seeing an improvement in that regard. Pilots understand the consequences and are conscientious of weather, time, etc.”
The airport is a critical economic driver of the Valley, if not the most important one. This is something to keep in mind for the larger corporations, business owners, power engineers, the Sun Valley Company, and numerous non-profits. According to Don, “we are really doing a great thing and serving this county well, especially when considering that entire county is under 25,000 people.”
Most importantly, we asked Don what he’ll do with his extra spare time. He noted that he’ll enjoy fishing more often on the Big Wood, as well as continue to take trips with his wife, his family, and his grandson. Truly, Don has been a humble asset to the board, and we’ve appreciated his time as the chairman. We look forward to having him as a board member for the rest of 2019.