Dear Wood Valley friends and partners,
Never in my 26+ years in the airport business would I have ever imagined having to pen a letter such as this, to you, our valued community, stakeholders, partners, and employees. As the COVID-19 global health pandemic continues to impact our beloved valley, I wanted to reach out to you, not through our newsletter, but on a more personal note, and share with you what’s happening at Friedman Memorial Airport, as well as what you may expect from us, going forward.
It’s no secret, the airport has suffered significant economic loss as have many of our local businesses in the valley. How much has the airport lost, you ask? Honestly, we’re still trying to figure that out. While we normally see reduced operations as the winter season concludes, the COVID-19 virus has impacted far more than just the number of arriving and departing flights. It has affected—and continues to affect—concessions, parking, tourism and other non-aeronautical revenue streams upon which we and the valley depend. We’ve also incurred unexpected costs for ongoing enhanced cleaning services and additional public health precautions we feel are necessary to protect our staff and all airport visitors.
Our airline partners are experiencing difficulties, too. Their industry is remapping service routes, frantically evaluating seating layouts to best accommodate social distancing practices, not to mention having to do this amid falling revenues and one the largest airline layoffs in history.
But I do have some good news. As you may have heard, Friedman Memorial Airport will receive more than $18.4 million in grant funding as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the U.S. economic stimulus package created in response to the COVID-19 health pandemic.
This much-needed additional federal money will provide financial relief to ensure the airport remains safe and operational, and will help cover revenue lost from the unexpected drop in air operations. More importantly, this grant will preserve Idaho jobs and keep Idahoans employed as we work together to rebuild our Idaho economy.
However, as the valley begins to recover, I want to make it very clear that for us at SUN, the “new normal” is not something that will happen instantaneously, nor will it be linear. It will be a slow and measured approach and done with specific guidance and metrics from public health and other subject matter experts and authorities. We want to—and we have to—get this right. And to do that, we’re going to need your help and your patience.
Experts predict travel restrictions and virus mitigation protocols, such as social distancing, will remain in place, for at least the near future—and that means a very challenging environment for our valley’s tourism-driven economy. Our favorite events may be postponed, seating capacities reduced, and more contactless service options will probably become the norm.
Tourism and the airport are two of the biggest economic engines in the valley and are deeply interdependent on each other. Our community’s economic well-being depends heavily on visitor dollars to create and sustain jobs, as well as to invest in and support critical infrastructure that benefits us all—better roads, reliable and efficient utilities, new parks and open spaces—even improvements to our schools and hospitals.
So, what does this all mean?
It means there is no playbook for what happened in our valley this spring; we’re essentially writing that playbook while playing the actual game. It also means we must work better, together, as an airport and a community to make the right decisions going forward.
However, right decisions take collaboration—and they take time.
So, we’re all going to have to increase our capacity to accept and tolerate change. Simple things such as arriving early for your flight will help everyone adapt to new ways of doing things at the airport. As non-essential travel resumes, whenever that may be, you can also anticipate a slightly longer security wait as TSA personnel work through new and evolving screening protocols to protect passengers without compromising safety.
Again, there’s no playbook for this.
However, the airport, its staff, management, airline partners and tenants want you to know that we live and work here, too, and there’s no higher priority for us than the health and economic well-being of the place we call home. We are fortunate to see that commitment to our community, every day, in the hard-working members of our Friedman Memorial Airport Authority Board. These dedicated individuals represent the very heart and soul of our valley and provide us with prudent guidance and effective leadership during this unprecedented time. And as we move toward recovery, we know they still have a tremendous amount of work before them.
As the valley works together to define what the “new normal” will look like, I am sure we are going to experience our fair share of challenges and frustration along the way. However, I am hopeful and confident we’ll also see a hearty portion of things that make us smile—things that will remind us eventually, we will get through this. Together.
Our airport newsletter team has launched our “Hometown Hero” program to offer you, the community an opportunity to thank and publicly recognize those people in your office or neighborhood that have made a difference for others during this unprecedented time. We’ll post their photos and share their inspiring stories as a regular feature in our newsletter and on our social media channels.
In closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a heartfelt gratitude to all of those serving the community. First, I want to extend a personal thank you to our dedicated airport staff, including our airport operations team and administrative staff, the airlines, and TSA, for ensuring a safe and functioning airport during the past several weeks to allow essential travel to continue, including cargo, mail, medevac and air carrier services. And, of course, thank you to our local doctors, nurses, medical and public health professionals, medevac pilots, law enforcement, fire fighters, grocery store workers, hardware store employees, postal and package delivery drivers, school teachers, sanitation, utility and infrastructure employees, and so many more who have selflessly stepped in front of a global health crisis to keep us safe.
And finally, while we don’t know what things will look like on the other side of this virus, we can all rest assured, when the valley gets there, we will still see some very familiar faces. Until then, I ask that you and your loved ones stay well and stay informed.
Friedman Memorial Airport