RIAC holds public meeting on 10-year aviation plan for BID

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 5:45pm
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A 10-year general aviation strategic business plan study is being conducted by Rhode Island Airport Corporation to determine the needs of the five general aviation airports in Rhode Island – Block Island, Newport, North Central, Quonset and Westerly – and to define the future direction of the airports. The discussion on the strategic business plan for the Block Island State Airport (BID) was held at a virtual public meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 5 to update community members and stakeholders of general aviation airports, and for RIAC to receive input from the audience on the strategic plan.

From a press release from RIAC dated Dec. 22 discussing the 10-year strategic business plan:

“Since 2019 RIAC has been gathering community, stakeholder and public input into a strategic business plan for general aviation airports throughout the state intended to identify airport and community needs, as well as the feasibility and desirability of on-airport amenities, and other potential development.”

The key elements of the strategic plan include: “Development of a ten-year plan to assess the condition of the airport infrastructure. This plan will summarize and prioritize necessary improvements at each airport; Development of a ten-year plan to assess the condition of airfields, roadways and parking area pavements. This plan will summarize and prioritize necessary pavement repairs and reconstructions at each airport; Development of an updated airspace analysis plan. This plan will identify current obstructions present within the airspace surrounding the airports and runways; Preparation of a ten-year business plan which will evaluate the current financial health of each airport, define economic development opportunities and provide potential paths forward to establish self-sustaining operations.”

Senior Vice President and Chief Infrastructure Officer of RIAC Christine Vitt opened up the public meeting, jumping right into the agenda with an overview of the planning.

“We kicked off this project back in 2019 and since then we have had a lot of progress that has been made,” said Vitt.

Vitt noted: “We are at the end of Phase 2 in the Phase 3 project,” with plans to wrap up Phase 2 at the end of February. Phase 1 of the project included data collection for a pavement analysis, a building and infrastructure assessment, and an airspace analysis. A financial analysis is poised for Phase 3.

The presentation also discussed upcoming capital improvement projects at BID, including the rehabilitation of the runway with $833,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration, and a public water supply project for the terminal building, with the FAA also showing interest in supporting the water supply project. For the future, RIAC listed potential opportunities to create additional vehicle parking, storage for residential and contractor supplies, and seasonal boat storage.

But, during the public comment period, Town Manager Maryanne Crawford recalled that the original $4.3 million capital improvement program titled “Aircraft Parking Apron Refurbishment/Enlargement Project,” was identified by RIAC in 2011 due to the need for the refurbishment and expansion of the Aircraft Parking Apron at BID.

During a Town Council meeting the night prior on Monday, Jan. 4, the council reaffirmed a resolution dated April 24, 2019 in support of the $4.3 million project, which had been in the RIAC capital improvement program budget pipeline for many years, and for RIAC to restore the funding to complete it.

“[On Monday, Jan. 4], the council reaffirmed a resolution that they adopted on April 24, 2019, and it talks about the [$4.3 million] apron refurbishment project that was originally in the [RIAC] capital plan in FY 2016-2020. We are very concerned about the apron, and you have $833,000 budgeted” for the new aircraft parking apron project, said Crawford.

BID, which has one runway, has an estimated annual 17,100 landings and takeoffs, with an estimated 16,000 annual passengers based on 2019 data. The airport also provides aviation services for planes and passengers, tie downs, and has a restaurant business. The runway has been reported by residents to have increased cracks in its apron over the years.

“In numerous areas we have grass growing up in the cracks – that is concerning,” said Crawford.

Chair of the Block Island State Airport Stakeholders’ Group Henry duPont provided a statement of his own during the public comment period, as well as addressing similar thoughts to Crawford on the $4.3 million capital improvement funding that had been removed. He also noted increased aircraft activity at BID, and the limited parking spaces for the aircraft.

“With regard to the 10-year plan, a lot of this work has already been done. In 2011, Statewide Planning identified what the needs were at each of the five airports. Block Island was identified as having a significant capacity problem with aircraft. We have over 125 aircraft and only have 25 parking spaces,” said duPont. “RIAC recognized this issue, and in 2015 you rolled out a big airport improvement program for all of the airports and announced a $4.3 million aircraft apron refurbishment program. This project never got built. Your offer of $833,000 to do the ramp repairs may reseal the cracks, but it does nothing for the aircraft ramp expansion,” said duPont.

Referring back to the Town Council’s April 24, 2019 resolution, “construction for the BID Aircraft Parking Apron Refurbishment/Expansion Project has not started, and we note that the entire project and project funds are now missing from the latest RIAC FY 2018-2022 Capital Improvement Program Budget, as well as in the State of Rhode Island FY 2019 Capital Improvement Program Budget.”

Vitt stated in response that “some of the capital projects will be similar, some will be new.”

“The pavement management program is a requirement of the FAA,” added Vitt.

Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Brian Schattle also added a few thoughts on the matter at hand.

“We are working with the FAA to look for any additional funds for the larger scale project on the apron,” said Schattle. “This type of review – being a public entity – there’s going to be competing priorities.”

“What else do you need to know? Let’s get going on our pavement refurbishment and expansion project,” said DuPont.

Vitt concluded RIAC will be working with FAA on the process. “We are working on getting the help for that apron,” she said.