RIAC: Decision to defund airport project made by FAA

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 6:00pm

While expressing his satisfaction that a fixed base operator has returned to the Block Island Airport, a local pilot had turned his attention to another question: Why was a $4.3 million project to refurbish the parking ramp at the Block Island Airport defunded?

In a series of emails sent on April 8 and April 9, Henry duPont wrote to Rhode Island Airport Vice President of Operations and Maintenance Richard McCurley and Block Island Second Warden André Boudreau as to why the project was being defunded in the 2020 fiscal year capital improvement budget, while also saying he was happy to see more staff at the Block Island State Airport. (duPont wrote to Boudreau because First Warden Ken Lacoste is a RIAC employee working at the airport.)

McCurley responded to duPont and The Block Island Times on April 10.

“The Federal Aviation Administration Airports Improvement Program has the responsibility to review these projects and either approve or deny. Like all other airports, RIAC’s projects are based on the availability of funding. With limited resources, the FAA evaluates and prioritizes project requests based on safety, security and system capacity. Unfortunately, the $4.3 million in funding for parking apron improvements at Block Island Airport did not immediately meet the FAA criteria it set forth. For that reason, RIAC will continue to present this project request to the FAA and, hopefully, secure funding for it in the not too distant future.”

McCurley also noted that “RIAC has invested in the last 15 years approximately... $12 million... at Block Island Airport alone.”

In his communication to RIAC, duPont said the presence of the fixed base operator was not only an improvement in terms of airport operations, but it was also good for business, which in turn was why the apron needed an upgrade.

“I am happy to report that Flightlevel Aviation is now fully engaged on Block Island and the return of a full service FBO has made a big difference to the flight crews and their passengers alike. We now have WIFI connectivity in the terminal, Flightlevel is hiring and training new energetic FBO staff, the Pilot Flight Planning Weather Computer is up and running, and Flightlevel is in the process of steam cleaning the rest rooms which has made a big improvement after the six months since the contracted janitorial services left the airport,” duPont wrote on April 9. “And best of all, BID is now again collecting landing fees, which significantly increases airport revenues. And the good news is spreading!  We had over 40 aircraft fly in on Sunday...” duPont said there was only room for 20 planes now.

This level of traffic, however, is why duPont turned his sites onto the parking ramp refurbishing project.

This amount of traffic, duPont wrote, “puts aircraft parking space, on the paved apron, at a premium since the ground is still too soft for safe turf aircraft taxiing and parking. This and the increased use of the airport by [larger] aircraft makes the RIAC BID Aircraft Parking Apron Improvement Project on Block Island even more of a necessity.” He added, “We hope you share our concern about the defunding of our airport’s Capital Improvement Program Budget and look forward to getting those funds restored and RIAC starting construction on our aircraft parking apron including an avgas dispenser like the ones you have in Westerly and Newport.”

McCurley said that Block Island was not the only airport impacted by FAA funding decisions “including the apron area at Newport State Airport. The FAA Airport District office is also withholding funding for that project and, in fact, any project at the airport until trees have been removed from the surrounding neighborhood. That same rationale holds true for any appropriation requests at Westerly State Airport.”

McCurley concluded by saying, “[W]e hope the business strategic master planning process for our state’s general aviation airports will be an inclusive and collaborative process. Stakeholders from each community will have an opportunity to engage with RIAC and our planning consultants to ensure we strike an effective balance between what the local community believes is critical to the successful continuation of the airport, and what may be financially feasible from the FAA’s perspective.”

“...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.

In his correspondence, duPont included a copy of a resolution he is proposing “in support of restoring RIAC Capital Improvement Program Funds at the Block Island State Airport” that he will present to the Town Council for consideration at its meeting on Wednesday, April 24.