By Julie K. Boatman
Bob Martin, administrator of the Idaho Transportation Department’s Division of Aeronautics, notes several initiatives, ongoing and in recent years, that have developed GA as an important asset in the state. A nod goes to the state's extensive network of backcountry airports and their critical role in accessing recreation and connecting remote settlements with the rest of the state. Martin points out that the state has assumed management of 17 airports located on federal property (including Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land) through long-term agreements, ensuring ongoing funding, maintenance, improvements and access for those facilities.
Also, with strong support from AOPA, the Idaho Aeronautics Division (AD) fought a revision to a USFS management plan that would effectively close four backcountry airstrips to public use. In the process of successfully reversing the tide, the Idaho AD formed an agreement with the USFS that the federal agency would develop a maintenance and improvement plan for both wilderness and non-wilderness airports.
The state recognizes that its strong GA airport system attracts business — and that it's a competitive endeavor worthy of capital investment. So the Aeronautics Division has initiated a broad-based program to identify various nontraditional sources of funding for the airport system that have both community and user support. This is called the Air Transportation Investment Forum. The Idaho Airstrip Network has also been formed to facilitate investment and improvement to the airport system.
Two recent gains in Idaho are airports at Donnelly and Rockford. The new airstrip at Donnelly (south of McCall) is a reopening of a private turf airport on the east side of the Cascade Reservoir. The state has approved financing to develop the airport into a destination that has water and air access only — the developing Tamarack ski resort lies just to the west.
State interest in Rockford Municipal Airport south of Blackfoot in eastern Idaho also convinced Bingham County officials (owners and operators of the airport) to keep the airport open, after county officials became concerned about rising insurance costs and decreasing activity levels. The owners are looking at ways to improve the airport and protect it from residential encroachment.