RIAC inks airport deal, questions remain

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 6:15pm
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The Rhode Island Airport Corporation has signed a tentative agreement with Block Island Reservations, LLC to become the fixed base operator at the Block Island State Airport. According to RIAC, however, there are still some contingencies to be worked through with the town before the deal can be finalized.

Town Manager Ed Roberge and Town Councilor Sven Risom were expected to meet with RIAC officials at the State House in Providence on Thursday, Feb. 14 to further discuss the issue.

Henry duPont, the resident pilot who has been spearheading the effort to restore funding for a fixed base operator at the Block Island Airport, said he is displeased with RIAC’s selection of a local non-aviation business to serve as FBO for the next year. 

The Block Island Airport has been operating without an FBO since October after FlightLevel Aviation’s contract wasn’t renewed, and RIAC allowed the FBO to opt out of the bidding process. duPont and town officials have said that the absence of an FBO has created safety and other concerns at the airport.

“RIAC told us they were engaging Block Island Reservations, LLC, a non-aviation business on Block Island to provide FBO services up at the airport,” said duPont. “Naturally we are disappointed that RIAC waived their requirement that all FBO’s in the state have a minimum of 10 years experience of providing FBO services at other airports, at least as large as the Rhode Island State Airports they are applying to serve.”

Mike Finnimore, owner of Block Island Reservations, who negotiated with RIAC to serve as FBO, told The Times that he was not ready to comment on the matter at this time. 

Alan Andrade, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of RIAC sent The Times the following remarks: 

“After numerous attempts to attract a vendor to provide services at Block Island Airport, Block Island Reservations was the only respondent to the recent request for proposals. We have entered into a tentative agreement with Block Island Reservations to supplement RIAC’s management and operation of the airport. Block Island Reservations has taken the step of identifying and retaining the exact personnel that performed these services previously when the prior operator functioned at the airport. Therefore, we have every confidence they have the experience necessary to carry out these duties.”

“That said, we are aware that the Block Island Reservations proposal contains contingencies that must be worked out with the town for this solution to move forward. These contingencies relate to car rental services being provided at the airport through Block Island Reservations. Again these contingencies are matters that need to be worked out between the town and the vendor. We would remind all concerned parties that this is the only response we have for these services.”

“If the Block Island Reservation’s proposal were to move forward, they would provide support for aviation operations at the airport including cleaning of restrooms, fee collection and assist with the parking of aircraft. This would be in addition to our full time RIAC employee who handles airfield maintenance related duties.”

“RIAC will continue to maintain staff onsite to oversee the operational safety, inspection and maintenance of the airfield and airport property. RIAC is poised and willing to invest and provide for more activity, both day and night, if that is the desire of the community.” 

duPont said he met with RIAC officials, and Town Manager Ed Roberge at the Block Island Airport on Feb. 6, when RIAC announced it had signed the agreement with Block Island Reservations to serve as FBO beginning on March 1.

In an email to town officials on Feb. 8, speaking on behalf of the airport’s stakeholder’s group, duPont wrote that: “RIAC engaged the FBO without funding it with $100,000 in airport revenues required to pay for the 4,200 hours of airport attendant labor the RFP requires. Aside from assisting pilots with parking, and collecting landing fees, the RFP does not require the FBO service provider to provide any of the other flight line or air crew counter services that RIAC expects their FBOs to provide at all the other airports.”

duPont told The Times that the stakeholders “have no indication that RIAC is providing ($100,000) to Block Island Reservations, because those funds are specifically left out of the request for proposal soliciting an FBO to provide those services at the airport.” According to duPont, RIAC is offering some renumeration, about $31,000, for 4,200 hours worth of labor. But duPont said that labor costs about $100,000, leaving a  $68,016 shortfall in staff labor funding alone. “And there is no additional funding for the FBO’s insurance, vehicles, supplies, safety equipment, office space lease, or management overhead, or profit.”

He said the stakeholders group is “asking RIAC to reengage FlightLevel Aviation, who is providing qualified FBO aeronautical services at the other state airports and fund them appropriately so they can continue to operate the Block Island Airport profitably.”

In his email, duPont wrote: “There is no reason that RIAC singled out the Block Island Airport for FBO services funding and service cuts, and now that the other state airports are receiving enhanced aeronautical services, there is no reason why we should be left behind. We must continue the pressure on RIAC to restore the aeronautical funding and services to the level that are being offered at the other four general aviation airports in spite of RIAC’s work to diminish our objections about the disparate treatment. We will work through this, but at a minimum, RIAC should never be allowed to put out an RFP soliciting aeronautical services at the Rhode Island State Airports with Block Island State Airport being excluded, ever again.”