Wendover and Tooele County officials can cross the Salt Lake City Airport Authority off their list of prospective benefactors.
The authority, which already manages three airports including one in Tooele County, isn't likely to take over or help out the Wend-over Airport, which needs a $3 million cash infusion, and fast, if the city is to avoid financial ruin and possible disincorporation."I don't think the Salt Lake City Airport Authority is the solution to the problem," said Airport Authority Executive Director Russ Widmar, who met with Wendover officials last week.
"We told the mayor we would provide him with some advice, and we're in the process of talking with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) about what options exist."
FAA officials indicated Tuesday they're not in a position to offer further assistance, either.
City and county officials still hope to pull some kind of financial rabbit out of the hat that will prevent Wendover's sudden disappearance from Utah's roster of cities.
Wendover needs $3 million to complete the $8.8 million expansion of its municipal airport or face a lawsuit from the project contractor that would almost certainly force the city into insolvency.
County Commissioner Gary Griffith said Tuesday county officials are still trying to come up with a plan to bail the city out and have asked Gibbons and Reed Construction to wait a little longer before going to court.
One argument for building a new 10,000-foot-long, 150-foot-wide, east-west runway was that it would allow the Wendover Airport to serve as a backup for Salt Lake International.
The thinking was that if bad weather shut down Utah's largest airport, airlines might prefer to detour their passenger jets to Wendover, a two-hour bus ride away, instead of to Boise or Las Vegas.
Widmar said the Ogden Airport has been used by Delta Air Lines as an alternate landing strip. Because the Ogden Airport is closer and already certified to receive large passenger jets, Widmar isn't sure the investment required to transform the Wendover Airport into a certified backup would be worth it.
Barry Banks, an aviation planner with the Wasatch Front Regional Council, thinks the Wendover runway could be especially valuable during the Olympics. If the Wasatch Front is fogged in or hit with a blizzard, Wendover would be a natural alternative for large planes carrying foreign fans or athletes, he said.
"The truth is, Ogden can accept aircraft up to about 727, 737 size because of its limited pavement strength and runway length," Banks said. "The runway that we proposed building in Wendover is roughly comparable to the runways at Salt Lake International . . . and would have all the capabilities of accepting heavier aircraft that would need to divert.
"That doesn't happen often, but we're concerned that during the Olympics that could happen and we'd have someplace else to send them other than to Denver or Las Vegas."
The Wendover runway is partially completed, but the city cannot receive about $5 million in grants from the FAA without securing a contract with a commercial air carrier.
Gambling charter flights began in 1993 and quickly made Wendover the third-busiest airport in Utah. But that well dried up last year when the charter provider lost its license and Wend-over, Nev., casino operators chose not to pursue a new air carrier.
Banks said he is working with the city and county to resolve the dilemma. Scaling back the project and building an 8,000-foot runway for now is an option, he said.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, has indicated he may be able to scrape together $1.5 million in federal assistance if the city or county can match that amount. Earlier this month, the Utah Legislature refused to increase the state tax on aviation fuel to raise more than $2 million for the airport.
The FAA, officially, is willing to "listen to proposals," said Mitch Barker, a Seattle-based FAA spokesman. But at the moment it has no plans to provide additional aid, he said.