Sun Valley Conference 2022: When private jets land in a small Idaho town

Hailey, Idaho – Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, flies in a Gulfstream G650. So did Jeff Bezos and Dan Shulman, CEO of PayPal. The planes, of which approximately 470 are in service, sell for $75 million each.

Most days, these planes circulate, transporting industry leaders to meetings all over the world. But for one week in July, some converge on a 100-foot-wide asphalt runway alongside the jagged hills of Idaho’s Wood River Valley.

The occasion is the annual Sun Valley Conference, a shoulder-rubbing mine organized by secret investment bank Allen & Company. Known as “Billionaires Summer Camp,” the conference kicks off this year on Tuesday, drawing in industry giants and their families — some of whom are on the lookout for local babysitters bound by non-disclosure agreements. Between organized trips and fly-fishing at past gatherings, there were sessions on creativity, climate change, and immigration reform.

For decades in these isolated gatherings, CEOs and board chairmen have made deals that shaped the television we watch, the news we consume, and the products we buy. Where, near ninth hole On the golf course, the president of General Electric expressed his desire to sell NBC to Comcast. It is where Mr. Bezos met with the owner of the Washington Post Before agreeing to buy the newspaper, and as Disney pursued a plan to buy ABC – with Warren Buffett in the center of discussions.

It’s also the biggest week of the year for Chris Pomeroy, director of Friedman Memorial Airport and the man responsible for making sure all the emperors come and go smoothly.

In the months leading up to the start of the conference, Mr. Pomeroy prepares to play a high-stakes 3D game of Tetris with multimillion-dollar private jets as attendees travel to Sun Valley, a resort town with Its population over the year is 1800 people.

During the 24-hour period last year as the conference began, more than 300 flights passed through Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, a small town near Sun Valley, according to data from Flightradar24, an industry data company. These aircraft ranged from small propellers to long-winged commercial aircraft. By comparison, two weeks ago, when Mr. Pomeroy gave me a short tour of the airport, only 44 flights took off or landed in a 24-hour period, according to the data company.

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“That’s empty now,” Pomeroy said, smoothly driving his white 2014 Ford Explorer (what he calls his “mobile command center”) past a freshly paved piece of asphalt. “But in the summer, and during the event in particular, there are planes parked all over here.”

Like much of the conference activities, the elements of travel there are shrouded in secrecy. Many of the planes they fly on have been registered to anonymous owners and LLCs, and some only contain vague references to their passengers. The plane that carried Mr. Craft last year, for example, is registered as “Aircraft One Trust,” according to FAA records. The plane that Mr. Bezos boarded is registered to Poplar Glen, a Seattle company.

Representatives for Mr. Kraft and Mr. Bezos declined to comment. Mr. Bezos is not expected to be in Sun Valley this year, according to a pre-listed guest list obtained by The New York Times.

Mr Pomeroy plans in advance to deal with the intense air traffic resulting from the conference, which he refers indirectly as his “annual aviation event”. Without proper regulation, swarms of private jets can jam into the airspace around Friedman, causing delays and diversions while pilots burn valuable fuel.

Such was the case for the 2016 conference, which coincided with Mr. Pomeroy’s first week on the job. That year, some aircraft hovered overhead or sat on the runway for more than an hour and a half, waiting to clear the airspace and runway.

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“I saw the planes actually lining up to take off from the northern end of the field almost all the way to the southern end of the field,” Pomeroy said, referring to the 7,550-foot runway. “From tail to nose, all the way up to the driveway.”

After that episode, Mr. Pomeroy recruited Greg Dyer, a former FAA district manager, to help clear up the mess on the tarmac. The two coordinated with the FAA Center in Salt Lake City to line up flights, sometimes 300 to 500 miles outside of Sun Valley. For some flights, takeoff begins before the planes take off.

“Before, it looked like an attack – it was just planes coming in from all compass points, all trying to get here at the same time,” said Mr. Dyer, airport consultant at Jviation-Woolpert.

Last year, delays were delayed by a maximum of 20 minutes, and no commercial passengers missed connecting flights due to air traffic caused by the conference, Mr. Pomeroy said.

When emperors are forced to spin through the air, they often hang out in splendid fashion. Lee Mindel, co-founder of SheltonMindel, an architecture firm that designed the plane, said buyers willing to pay tens of millions for a high-quality private jet were unlikely to refuse to pay an extra $650,000 to equip the plane with Wi-Fi. Interiors of Gulfstream and Bombardier private jets. He said some owners have opted for custom-made tableware from Muriel Grateau in Paris, V’Soske rugs or other luxury features.

“If you have to ask about costs, you can’t do that,” said Mr. Mindel.

During the pandemic, when business travel has slowed due to restrictions, business travel has increased among a subset of CEOs who didn’t want to back out of their work, said David Yermak, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He added that it may be cheaper in the long run to compensate CEOs with air travel rather than paying them cash.

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“I think it was Napoleon who said, ‘When I realized that people would give their lives for little bits of colored ribbon,’ I knew I could conquer the world,” said Mr. Yermak.

The abundance of flights certainly raises practical concerns. Residents of Hailey, as well as nearby Ketchum and Sun Valley, have complained in the past about the noise made by jet aircraft approaching the Friedman Memorial Airport.

To deal with complaints, Mr. Pomeroy and the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority have scaled back flights between 11pm and 7am and limited the number of takeoffs and landings from the north, over the small town of Healy.

Prior to the conference, Mr. Pomeroy sent a message to incoming pilots about what to expect, advising them to minimize noise.

“Although the vast majority of users during this event respect our software and our community, only a few operators who blatantly ignore our software, or who neglect to educate themselves about our software, leave a negative impression on all of us.” Pomeroy wrote this year.

Allen & Company’s banality over some details of the conference extends to the airport. But Mr. Pomeroy and his team get enough information to deduce when the emperors will arrive as they are about to leave the city.

When the talk ends next week, Mr. Pomeroy will begin the daunting task of getting the corporate giants out of Idaho. Often this means that the airport is briefly closed to arrivals while they restrict departures for an hour.

Mr Pomeroy said that as the last planes prepared to leave, he and his team were breathing a sigh of relief.

Then, he said, I’m ready to hit the river for some serious fly-fishing for a day or two.

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