RIAC signs local company as airport operator

Thu, 02/07/2019 - 6:30pm
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The Block Island Airport will finally be getting a new, local fixed base operator to manage the airport’s daily activity.

The Rhode Island Airport Corporation informed New Shoreham Town Manager Ed Roberge on Wednesday that it has entered into an agreement with Block Island Reservations, LLC to serve as the airport’s FBO starting on March 1 for a one-year period. The airport had been operating without an FBO since October, which has caused safety concerns for pilots and Town of New Shoreham officials.

Block Island Reservations is an island-based real estate and rental housing business owned and operated by island pilot Mike Finnimore.

Roberge told the Town Council at its work session on Wednesday that he met with RIAC officials at the airport that afternoon and they told him that Block Island Reservations would be signing an agreement to serve as the airport’s FBO. Roberge said the town would not know the details of the agreement between RIAC and the new FBO until after March 1. He said that the third party operator was the sole respondent to RIAC’s RFP.

Council members voiced concerns with how the property might be used by RIAC and the FBO, and decided to seek a legal opinion from Land Use Town Solicitor Don Packer. The council voted unanimously (3-0) to solicit Packer “to review allowable uses of the state land and identify who has the regulatory authority over the state airport property.” Councilor Chris Willi made the motion, which was seconded by Second Warden André Boudreau. First Warden Ken Lacoste was recused, while Councilor Sven Risom was absent.

Roberge said RIAC informed him that Block Island Reservations would employ the two local staffers employed by FlightLevel Aviation, the airport’s previous FBO. RIAC did not renew FlightLevel’s contract, and mysteriously omitted the Block Island Airport from the state bidding process. The FBO is responsible for essential daily airport functions, such as parking planes, collecting landing fees, responding to pilot communications, and making sure that planes have been chocked or tied down.

“At about 2:30 p.m. this afternoon I met with RIAC,” said Roberge. “They did confirm that they’ve signed a contract with a fixed base operator. The contract begins on March 1. So we’re moving forward. That’s a really positive step.”

Roberge said there are issues that need to be addressed at the airport, including its condition, and infrastructure. “Part of that is looking at airside development, as well as landside development, or lack thereof,” he said. “What I expressed to RIAC is that we want to be a willing participant in that.”

Roberge noted RIAC’s “responsiveness” to resident pilot Henry duPont’s queries and the town’s interest in having an FBO operate at the airport. The council drafted a resolution at duPont’s request that was sent to Block Island’s state representatives so they could pursue the matter in the General Assembly.

Willi asked Roberge what RIAC said about the Block Island Airport being dropped from the state FBO bidding process. “There’s money that they receive because of Block Island’s airport.”

“The issue is not so much that they dropped Block Island,” said Roberge. The issue is whether there is “any marketable interest in Block Island with those other fixed base operators.” He noted that the Block island Airport was the only airport out of the five state airports to not receive an FBO’s bid during the state bidding process. 

Councilor Martha Ball said she thought that the town should get “clarification on the zoning status of” the airport property. “Who in fact controls that? This has come up in the past. And I’d like to get a legal opinion on it.”

“We can certainly get that legal opinion,” said Roberge. “My opinion is that it’s a state property. However, land use is regulated by the community. Our current zoning laws state that.”

“I’m not comfortable with promises from the state,” said Ball. “I think we need to have that nailed down.”

“I think the parameters of the contract with the FBO are important to consider,” said Willi. “On March 1st what parameters do they have to work with for being awarded the contract by RIAC? You can see the concerns.”

“I do. We want to be careful about that,” said Roberge. “I believe that the local land use controls control the use of that property. But we should get a legal opinion regarding that.”

Second Warden André Boudreau agreed with Ball’s suggestion to solicit a legal opinion from the town solicitor. He said that State Rep. Blake Filippi, and the Governor’s office “have been apprised of the situation.”