Council urged to press for airport FBO

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 6:30pm
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Block Island resident Henry duPont has found the situation at the Block Island State Airport to be in such a precarious situation that he has written the Town Council asking it to consider a resolution that would “compel [Rhode Island Airport Corporation] to restore the funding cuts to the (airport) budget and to re-engage their contracted airport service provider… to continue to provide essential airport services on Block Island.”

duPont sent the letter to Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick on Wednesday, Jan. 2. duPont also sent a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo about the situation.

In an accompanying letter to The Block Island Times, duPont said “As you may have heard, the airport, with its RIAC staffing cuts, is in serious trouble. Last weekend, dozens of aircraft flew out to the airport to visit the island for the holidays, and without an airport attendant, the pilots did not receive any response to their radio calls, any assistance with aircraft parking, and there was no one to collect landing fees or call ground transportation for the visiting pilots, and their passengers. On top of that, a cleanout drain in the men’s room clogged up causing a sizable puddle in front of the urinal. Mercifully, there were no incidents like aircraft getting stuck in the grass tiedown areas, and thankfully, there were no aircraft accidents requiring emergency response.”

Block Island State Airport has been without a fixed base operator since November.

The FBO contracted to fulfill that position at the Block Island State Airport on a seasonal basis, FlightLevel Aviation, did so after RIAC did not include the Block Island airport in its original RFP seeking an FBO for its five other regional airports last April.

The island airport has one fulltime RIAC employee, Andy Transue, who is in charge of airport field operations, but does not have authority to take pilot calls, park airplanes or tie them down. duPont said he wanted to make it clear that his complaints with RIAC and the fixed base operator should not reflect on Transue’s performance.

In his letter to The Times, duPont said, “Block Island does not deserve to have its airport services arbitrarily cut by RIAC especially when they there are no associated funding or service cuts at the other five R.I. State Airports.”

duPont added that “None of the above issues should reflect poorly on RIAC’s sole Block Island Airport maintenance employee, who is doing a good job maintaining the airport but simply cannot provide airport maintenance, as well as airport operations services, with a 40-hour work week, at an airport with 60 to 70 hours of active airport operations.”

The resolution that duPont has proposed, which has been added to the Council’s agenda for its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 11, states that the Block Island Airport, which is the second busiest airport in the state, has had an on-site attendant throughout all its 68-year history.

“Whereas, the absence of essential airport service personnel to answer aircraft radio calls, assist aircraft with parking, provide wheel chocks, collect landing fees, and to assist pilots and their passengers with directions and ground transportation has left the Block Island Airport in unmanaged disarray, and

“Whereas, the State curtailment of funding and personnel for essential airport services would have a profound effect at any airport, but on Block Island they have an even greater impact on the community because our airport is one of the only two transportation gateways to the island, and

“Whereas, these service cuts directly impact tourism, airline operations, airport revenues, emergency services, and public safety. When the Block Island State Airport is unattended, there is no one to provide airport runway inspections, and runway bird and deer sweeps. At worst, if there is an aircraft accident, such as an aircraft going off the end of the runway, there is no one on duty to call emergency services to respond to the accident.”