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A big chunk of the valley’s future is ‘up in the air’

It’s true. The future of our beautiful Wood River Valley is up in the air—and funny enough, it arrives daily at Friedman Memorial Airport (SUN). It’s no secret our community’s livelihood is heavily anchored in tourism, but what you may not know is that a big slice of that bounty is tied directly to aviation.

Yes. Aviation.

Whether it’s a commercial airliner or private business jet, aviation is one of the biggest and most productive economic engines in the valley, powering not only much-needed jobs but many of the vital community services and amenities we take for granted.

Approximately every 10 or so years, the Idaho Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics releases its Airports Economic Impact Analysis Update, a comprehensive study that quantifies and tracks just how far aviation dollars travel within the valley—and the state.

While the COVID-19 pandemic put a dent in the global economy and tourism in the valley, we know from the 2010 IAEA study that, collectively, Idaho’s 75 system airports support thousands of valuable Idaho jobs and contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in earnings to our state and local economies.

And that was more than 10 years ago.

However, second, only to Boise Airport, the state’s largest commercial and joint civil-military airport, SUN is a consistent leader in economic impact among Idaho commercial service airports and tourist dollars delivered—and that means jobs for our community, both on and off the airport.
That’s right, SUN, your hometown airport connects the valley to a much bigger economic picture. In fact, the airport connects us to many of the opportunities that enrich our lives.

So, while we wait for the final 2020 IAEA numbers to be officially published, I wanted to share with you some thoughts about how symbiotic SUN is with the economic recovery of the Wood River Valley.

It’s no secret, economic indicators of all sorts have certainly taken a plunge since COVID-19 entered our lives. However, the financial base created by SUN in previous years has helped not only provide a small safety net for the airport but for the community as well, to weather the initial pandemic shutdown.

With solid fiscal management, support and stewardship from the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority Board, as well as our partnerships with the Fly Sun Valley Alliance and the Sun Valley Air Service Board, many jobs have been preserved and operational functions have continued during one of the most uncertain chapters in our history.

But a safety net is just that—a safety net. It is not a sustainable solution. We, at SUN, are grateful for the forthcoming assistance provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. However, this too is not a long-term solution. While studies show the travel and tourism industry will eventually recover, it will do so slowly and forever changed. And that means, now more than ever, the valley and the airport must work together to rebuild our local economy.

Air service is critical to the future valley, not only to deliver tourists and tourist dollars but to deliver all the things that support tourism in general. SUN is honored to be a critical part of the valley’s past, present, and future, including its economic recovery in the wake of the worst public health crisis in more than a century.

As I think about our role within the valley and our local community in the coming months, I can’t help but reflect on the words of Norm Crabtree, the former Ohio Director of Aviation, who often mused that, “the airport runway is the most important main street in any town.”

We will continue to do our best to ensure SUN remains a vital component in the future economic recovery of the Wood River Valley.