duPont questions RIAC proposal

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 6:30pm
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An announcement made last week by Rhode Island Airport Corporation stating that it would create a task force to determine what projects should be undertaken at the state’s general aviation airports has one local pilot wondering why the agency is recreating work that has already been done.

Last Friday, Richard McCurley, RIAC’s Chief of Staff, issued a press release stating that RIAC will “initiate a strategic business and master planning process for all five of Rhode Island’s general aviation airports. This process will include Block Island State Airport, North Central State Airport, Quonset State Airport, Westerly State Airport, and Newport State Airport. To accomplish this multi-year undertaking, RIAC will form an internal task force comprised of experts in the field of infrastructure, planning, finance, legal and property management and will also rely on consultants who will help evaluate business development opportunities and potential infrastructure needs. The RIAC task force will work on three deliverables as key components to formulate an overall strategic master plan that will include developing:

“ - A Ten-Year Facilities (buildings) Plan including the evaluation of building conditions and priorities. The plan will identify scope, budget, schedule and possible funding sources at each airport. The plan will also consider how improved facilities could impact rental rates for current tenants.

“ - A Ten-Year Airfield Plan that will evaluate and adopt a pavement management schedule.

“- A Ten-Year Business Plan to evaluate economic development conditions and opportunities at all general aviation airports. This plan will identify all available properties that can be developed for shovel ready projects.

“Additionally, RIAC will work with town managers and local officials to form committees in each town or city where the airports are located. RIAC expects that each of these committees would be inclusive and representative of a large number of stakeholders including neighbors, airport tenants, community leaders, town officials, business owners, local tourism officials, members of the General Assembly and members of the general aviation community.”

Local pilot Henry duPont had a quick response.

In a letter sent to state Sen. Susan Sosnowski, state Rep. Blake Filippi, and the State House constituent affairs office, duPont wrote, “When I read that RIAC was embarking on a multi-year study to determine what capital improvements needed to be made at each of the five General Aviation Airports, it set off an alarm because anyone who has been going to the RIAC Airport Stakeholders meetings, that they have held at each of the GA Airports over the years, will remember that RIAC has already thoroughly studied the GA Airport infrastructure needs, prepared a list of projects, performed much of the engineering, and incorporated them into  their capital improvement budgets for each of the five GA airports.”

duPont included an attachment of RIAC’s Capital Improvement Project Budget for fiscal years 2017-2021, which included a $4,097,436 appropriation for an expanded airport parking apron for the Block Island State Airport to be completed in this current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2019. duPont noted that these funds are not allocated after the current fiscal year. The CIP also included a total of $250,000 over three years (2017, 2018, and 2019) for T-Hangars at the various GA airports, but were not built at Block Island.

“What happened to all the RIAC Capital Projects at each of the GA Airports? Where are our T-Hangers?” duPont wrote. “Why is RIAC planning to spend only 10 percent of their capital improvement dollars at all five of the GA airports as compared to the hundreds of millions they are planning to spend at T.F. Green?” duPont wrote to the officials. “Why do we need a new airport study to tell us that the hanger in Westerly is about to be condemned, the old Terminal Building at North Central is in serious disrepair, the roof has fallen in on the Quonset Air Museum Hanger, and the aircraft tiedown aprons on Block Island and in Newport need to be mowed occasionally to keep the grass which is growing up through the cracks in the pavement at a manageable level? If the Block Island Airport is going to achieve its potential, we need to get our capital budget restored and RIAC started on the airport infrastructure improvements they identified years ago and did nothing about!”

duPont also did some additional digging and said he had found the following line item in the state budget for fiscal year 2018 under the heading “General Aviation Capital Improvements”: 

“Block Island – The Airport Master Plan Update identified the need for additional aircraft parking during the peak season. This project will rehabilitate the existing apron and develop an additional paved aircraft parking apron at the west end of the existing apron. This Block Island project includes $4.3 million in FAA financing and General Airport Revenue Bonds, beginning in FY 2020.”

In his letter, duPont said, “I looked in the full State of R.I. FY 2019 Budget and under the RIAC Section (pdf page 119) the project is completely missing.”

duPont concluded in his letter to the state representatives: “We hope you share our concern. Would it be possible to schedule another meeting between RIAC Management and the GA Airport Advocates to address these issues? Perhaps we will get more traction with them during the instant budget season.” In a followup letter to The Times he said he would check with other Block Island Airport stakeholders to see what the next steps may be.

Recently, RIAC announced that it had secured FlightLevel Aviation to return to its role as the Block Island Airport’s local fixed base operator beginning April 1.