Baggage comes off a commercial flight at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, Idaho, June 29th, 2022. (Ellen Hansen/The New York Times)
Baggage comes off a commercial flight at Friedman Memorial Airport in Hailey, Idaho, June 29th, 2022. (Ellen Hansen/The New York Times)

The owner of the New EnglandPatriots is flying in a plane. They do too. Roughly 475 of the jets are in operation and retail for about $75 million each.

On most days, those planes are used to ferry captains of industry to meetings around the world. Some of them converge on a single 100 foot wide asphalt runway next to the jagged hills of Idaho in July.

The Allen & Co.-organized Sun Valley conference is known as a summer camp for billionaires. Climate change, immigration reform, and creativity have been topics of discussion at previous gatherings.

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For decades, CEOs and board chairmen have made deals that have shaped the TV we watch, the news we consume and the products we buy. Near the ninth hole of the golf course, the head of General Electric expressed his interest in selling NBC to the cable company. It is where Bezos met with the owner of The Washington Post before agreeing to buy the paper and where Disney pursued a plan to purchase ABC.

Chris Pomeroy is the director of Friedman Memorial Airport and he is responsible for making sure all the moguls come and go smoothly.

In the months before the conference starts, 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 a year-round population of 1800.

According to data from Flightradar 24, more than 300 flights passed through the Friedman Memorial Airport in a single day last year. They ranged from small propeller planes to large jets. When I was given a tour of the airport two weeks ago, just 44 flights took off or landed there over a 24 hour period.

Pomeroy steered his white Ford Explorer past a swath of freshly paved asphalt and said "this is empty right now." There are airplanes parked all over the place during the summer.

Like the activities of the conference, the travel there is shrouded in mystery. Some of the jets flying in are registered to obscure owners and limited liability companies. According to records from the Federal Aviation Administration, the jet that carriedKraft last year is registered under the name "Airkraft One Trust." The plane that Bezos flew in is owned by a Seattle firm.

Representatives for the two companies didn't want to comment. According to an advance list of guests obtained by The New York Times, Bezos won't be at Sun Valley this year.

The annual fly-in event is what Pomeroy refers to as the intense air traffic created by the conference. The airspace around Friedman could be crowded with private jets if proper organization wasn't in place.

The 2016 conference was held at the same time as Pomeroy's first day on the job. Some aircraft sat on the tarmac for more than an hour and a half as they waited for the airspace and runway to clear.

There were airplanes lined up to take off from the north end of the field and the south end of the field. All the way up the taxi way.

A former district manager at the FAA was enlisted by Pomeroy to help clear the tarmac. The flights were coordinated with an FAA hub in Salt Lake City. The staging starts before the planes leave.

It used to be just airplanes coming from all points of the compass and trying to get here at the same time.

There were no commercial travelers who missed connecting flights because of air traffic caused by the conference last year.

When moguls are forced to circle in the air, they are in top form. Lee Mindel, one of the founding partners of SheltonMindel, an architectural firm that has designed the interiors of Bombardier and Gulfstream, said that buyers of high-end private planes are unlikely to pay more than $650,000 to have their aircraft equipped with wi-fi. He said that some owners prefer to have their own pieces of furniture, such as V'Soske rugs.

Mindel said that you can't afford to do it if you have to ask what it costs.

David Yermack, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, said that during the Pandemic, corporate jaunts increased among a subset of executives who didn't want to be held back. It might be cheaper for CEOs to be compensated with jet travel than with cash.

"I think it was Napoleon who said, 'When I realized people would lay down their lives for little pieces of colored ribbon, I knew I could conquer the world.'"

Practical concerns are raised by the large amount of flights. The residents of Ketchum and Sun Valley have complained about the noise created by the jets zooming into Friedman Memorial Airport.

The number of takeoffs and landings from the north was limited in order to deal with the complaints.

Pomeroy tells incoming pilots to keep the noise to a minimum before the conference.

Only a few operators who blatantly disregard our program or who are negligent in educating themselves about our program leave a negative impression on all of us.

The stinginess about some conference details extends to the airport. When the moguls are about to leave town, Pomeroy and his team have enough information to make a decision.

When the schmoozing is over next week, Pomeroy will begin the task of getting corporate Idaho out of the state. It's often necessary to close the airport for a short time to make room for departing flights.

Pomeroy and his team breathed a sigh of relief when the last jets left.

He said he was ready to hit the river for some serious fly fishing.

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