RIAC seeking to improve airport communication

Fri, 06/29/2018 - 9:45am

Rhode Island Airport Corporation officials hope an impending change in management at the Block Island Airport will include improved communications between pilots and the management team, while also saying a new company will oversee such critical airport operations as parking planes.

Three officials from RIAC held a special meeting held at Town Hall on Tuesday night as part of a public outreach campaign. RIAC did not renew its contract with AvPorts, the Virginia-based company that had been managing the airport since 2009, and will be taking over direct oversight management of five general aviation airports, including Westerly and Block Island, on Sunday, July 1.

Alan Andrade, Senior Vice President of Operations and Maintenance, said it was not in the “best interest of the public to rely on a third party” to manage the airport. “It’s like a rental car. You don’t care about it the same way, as you do your own. That was the concept we had gotten away from.”

RIAC has also hired a Norwood, Mass. company, Flight Level, for staffing the airport’s counter, collecting landing fees, and parking the planes. RIAC hired Block Island resident Andy Transue as Lead Airfield Technician, who will be responsible for maintenance of the grounds, while also addressing issues and complaints at the airport.

As for community concerns, Andrade said James Warcup, RIAC’s Chief Aeronautics Inspector, is the person the public should contact. “Jim is our point person for community concerns — for any pilot activity, or for any concerns that involve operations of the airport,” he said.

Andrade said Jeffery Wiggin, Assistant Vice President of Operations and Maintenance, is contact person for maintenance and upkeep of the airfields, “and making sure everything is done correctly.”

Wiggin asked for patience from the island community as RIAC coordinates its management of the airport. “We’re striving for some ownership of the airports to keep them, and the surrounding property, in a nice condition. So there is going to be a transition phase while we get things to a level that I expect them to be maintained at,” he said.

Warcup said RIAC “is looking for a level of safety” for the 10,000 landings and takeoffs at the airport during the year. He said there’s always vigilance in preventing mishaps, especially with a runway that is only 2,500 feet long. “We want to improve, and keep our operation steady, and make it more efficient,” Warcup said.

Resident and private pilot Arlene Tunney asked RIAC officials about who would serve as a backup to Transue, particularly during the winter season. “Ice will form, and it could be days before you can fly in and out of here. It’s a lifeline for us. So, what’s your backup?”

“I’ll get my brother-in-law Ken to do it,” quipped Transue, referencing New Shoreham First Warden Ken Lacoste. After laughter subsided, Andrade said that RIAC will have a backup plan in place.

“It’s a good point,” said Andrade. “We’ll work with Andy to create some kind of local backup system.” Warcup added that the airport “shouldn’t be down for more than 12 hours.”

New Shoreham Town Councilor Sven Risom raised the question of adding storage units at the airport, which could be a boon for RIAC economically. Andrade said that RIAC had been considering the idea, and would explore adding storage units.

After the meeting, First Warden Ken Lacoste said he felt the meeting was productive, and noted that Transue should be “a credible witness and representative of the town’s people and RIAC at the airport. He’s a credible witness if somebody makes a complaint. He understands aviation inside and out — having been a highly-rated pilot for 40 years.”

Second Warden André Boudreau echoed Lacoste’s sentiments, and said RIAC “will provide information for people at the airport that will be key to them understanding the airport’s rules and procedures.”