Sosnowski meets with RIAC officials

Thu, 12/19/2019 - 7:00pm

State Sen. Susan Sosnowski recently met with officials from the Rhode Island Airport Corporations to discuss issues related to both the Block Island State Airport and the airport in Westerly. The meeting, which took place on Dec. 10, was a followup to a meeting RIAC officials had with town representatives. At that meeting, Block Island officials expressed some dissatisfaction over the slow pace of an injunction that has prevented RIAC from trimming back trees on private property surrounding the airport in Westerly. Those trees are cutting back on available runway space.

“Basically, the meeting was about general aviation issues and marketing Rhode Island to help the airports,” said Sosnowski. She said she spoke to RIAC President and CEO Iftikhar Ahmad “at length about the Block Island situation and the Westerly Airport.”

While the meeting with RIAC officials on Block Island on Nov. 14 was initially meant to receive feedback on a new 10-year plan for the state’s general aviation airports, and to set a date for a town hall-like meeting on that plan, town officials pushed back by saying they wanted a faster resolution to the Westerly litigation. Town officials were dismayed to hear from RIAC that resoving that issue could take years.

“The biggest issue is what’s going on with the Westerly Airport. How important it is as a lifeline to Block Island,” said Sosnowski. The senator also acknowledged the role the airport plays in the island’s economy.

With the lawsuit in limbo, Sosnowski said the state legislature may have to get involved. “The bottom line is we may have to go to legislation,” she said. “The runways have been shortened and there are some visibility issues.”

Sosnowski said that “If we lose Westerly it would be devastating to the whole state. Everyone in the room was in agreement on that.”

She said that it was important for Block Island to be represented “in any discussions in Westerly” about the situation at the airport. Sosnowski said she also pushed for more public meetings with RIAC about the general aviation airports.

She said she hoped pilots would begin to speak out in support of the airports, much in the same way that local pilot Henry duPont has.

One of the primary concerns about the Block Island Airport is its lack of profitability. The airport is continuously in deeply in the red, according to RIAC figures. duPont, in a recent letter to RIAC, outlined various ways in which the local airport could increase its revenue streams.

Among them were:

Hangers and fuel. There is no reason why the island trucking service that hauls all our heating fuel and gasoline out here cannot bring out a tank truck of Avgas to fill a prefabricated fuel tank (like the ones they have at the marinas), which would be used to fill a light aircraft fueling truck for aircraft fuel service on the ramp. The building inspector told me that there are no restrictions with regards to fuel storage at the airport, except they would want a letter from the state fire marshal’s office certifying that the fuel storage tank and truck met the existing state safety standards. 

Parking. Clearly people are using the short-term parking lot for longer-term parking. The ferry gives people a 48 hour pass to put on your dashboard to park in their lot for free. After that you have to pay. Adapting this policy would provide much more revenue than the cost to administer.

Operations. Perhaps subbing small jobs to local island maintenance contractors will provide more timely and less costly maintenance than using off-island resources.

Landing fees. I was surprised to see the low collections of landing fees/aircraft in your operating statistics. A $5 landing fee which was not waived for singles and a $10 for twins would triple the revenue from these operations. Increasing the hours of operation, especially during the summer season, will capture significantly more landing and tiedown fees as well.

Agricultural use. The only place where the soil and shelter from the wind may be available is in the hollow across Center Road immediately to the west of the runway. Maybe you could lease that area for a “community garden” and get some positive publicity from that initiative. The gardeners would have to have a source of water.

Boat storage. A few years ago, there were boats stored in the lot north of the hanger. Perhaps that is an opportunity.