Sun Valley, Idaho: Billionaires’ Summer Playground Causes Air Traffic Delays

Sun Valley, Idaho: Billionaires’ Summer Playground Causes Air Traffic Delays

Small town Sun Valley, Idaho, known as the 'summer camp for billionaires', is once again in the spotlight as the Allen & Co. annual conference kicks off. This elite event has led to an influx of private jets, triggering extensive delays at the nearby Friedman Memorial Airport. High-profile attendees such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg have been invited to this year's event, according to Bloomberg and Variety.

Since Tuesday morning, more than 40 private jets have flown into the Friedman Memorial Airport, with over 100 more expected throughout the day, according to FlightAware. This significant upsurge, compared to the usual daily traffic of around 40 planes, has caused inbound flight delays averaging about 1 hour and 55 minutes. As a result of this congestion, last year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had to delay incoming flights until traffic subsided. However, this year, the FAA declined to comment, as the airport is not FAA-managed.

Among the arrivals, planes associated with companies like Nike are already on the ground, with Disney CEO Bob Iger also spotted. A significant number of incoming flights are operated by private charter company NetJets, the world's largest by fleet size, offering an array of aircraft from the smaller Embraer Phenoms and mid-sized Cessna Citations to the colossal $75 million Bombardier Global 7500. It's commonplace for affluent attendees to opt for private operators like NetJets to maintain privacy regarding their whereabouts.

Indeed, Apple CEO Tim Cook, on the guest list for Sun Valley 2023, has been exclusively flying on charters instead of the company's corporate planes since 2017, citing "security and efficiency" due to his highly visible role. Similarly, Bernard Arnault, CEO of Louis Vuitton and currently the world's richest man, sold his private jet last October over security concerns. His attendance at this year's event, however, remains unconfirmed.

The 'summer camp for billionaires' is more than just a getaway, it’s a backdrop for major business deals. Past examples include Jeff Bezos' purchase of The Washington Post and Disney's $19 billion ABC acquisition. It’s not all work, though, as the schedule is sprinkled with recreational activities such as tennis, golf, whitewater rafting, and sessions on topics ranging from creativity to climate change.

The small town, with a population of just 1,800, goes to great lengths to prepare for this annual event. Chris Pomeroy, director of Friedman Memorial Airport, confessed to The New York Times that months of preparation go into the conference to prevent major backups at the airport, which, if mismanaged, could result in jets circling the airport or waiting on the tarmac for over an hour.

As the annual gathering of the world's most powerful people gets underway, the sleepy town of Sun Valley once again bristles with the hum of private jets, blending the bucolic with the billionaire class.