Sunday, December 06, 2015

Rhode Island Airport Corporation rescinds airport fee: Block Island State Airport (KBID), Washington County, Rhode Island

The message was clear: the controversial facility fee that had been implemented at the Block Island Airport last October has been rescinded.

The $20 fee was temporarily suspended last month, but Kelly Fredericks, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC), announced the fee is no longer in effect. He made the announcement at a meeting on Block Island on Wednesday, Dec. 2. 

James Warcup, the aeronautics inspector for RIAC, also announced that the existing $15 landing fee was being lowered to $5. The Block Island Airport also has a $5 ramp fee, which can be waived if the pilots of planes registered in Rhode Island eat at Bethany’s Diner.

The announcement came in the wake of complaints from pilots — primarily on aviation chat boards — who said that if they had to pay $20 every time they landed on Block Island then they would simply fly someplace else.

“A more competitive fee will get us back in the game,” said Warcup.

The RIAC officials at Wednesday’s meeting made it very clear, however, that a new revenue stream would have to be found, but they also repeatedly said they wanted to work collaboratively with island businesses and organizations to come up with creative solutions to make that happen. 

It was in that same spirit of collaboration that led up to the elimination of the facility fee, according to RIAC representatives. Talks in the past month with Jessica Willi, Executive Director of the Block Island Tourism Council, Kathy Szabo, President of the Block Island Chamber of Commerce, as well as Henry duPont, who represents local aviators, helped shape the final decision.

What was apparent was that finding a new revenue stream was not going to be as simple as getting rid of the facility fee, and that was why the RIAC representatives were looking to the island for new ideas. Fredericks said this kind of collaboration was unprecedented, and said he hoped it would be a model for the other four general aviation airports in the state.

The goal was two-pronged: to increase revenue and aviation traffic at the Block Island Airport. Traffic has significantly dropped in the past decade, from a high of about 11,000 private planes landing on the island to about 8,000 or so in the past 12 months (these landings do not include Cape Air or New England Airlines flights).

One of the first steps that will be taken to increase revenue at the airport will be to do a better job collecting the existing landing fee from the pilots that land here. “We haven’t done as good a job on that as we could have,” said Warcup. Of the roughly 8,000 flights that landed on Block Island in the past 12 months, Warcup said they collected fees from 1,452. 

“That’s less than 18 percent,” he said. “The goal is to collect 80 percent of those.” 

Through marketing campaigns and other efforts, Warcup and Alan Andrade, the Senior Vice President for Operations and Maintenance for RIAC, said the goal was to increase landings at the airport by about 500 each year until they reach the pre-recession number of about 11,000.

“We want the traffic,” said Andrade. “But we need the community to make that happen.”

One idea to attract more traffic to the island was to offer coupons for island businesses that would not only help encourage pilots to patronize Block Island businesses but would be an incentive to come to the island. However, Bethany Coviello, owner of Bethany’s Airport Diner, wasn’t enthusiastic about luring pilots away from the airport and into town.

“You’re talking about sending everybody into town,” Coviello said. She thought the idea was fine during the summer, when there was plenty of business to spread around.

Warcup said another idea would be to promote island attractions, such as the Greenway trails.

Even so, increased traffic and a more attractive landing fee, plus increased fee collection, would still not cover the roughly $320,000 the Block Island Airport is losing every year.

For new revenue streams, the first idea that was brought up was to sell fuel at the airport. A fuel analysis that was presented by Jeremy Nielsen, the Executive Director of AvPorts, which is the company that currently manages the airport, made it clear that while selling fuel was not impossible, transportation and storage issues may raise the per-gallon price to levels that pilots simply would not pay. 

Jessica Willi, from the Tourism Council, was asked if her Board had come up with any ideas, and she passed out a list of some proposals:

- Expand the parking area and enforce long-term parking rates as well as allowing boat storage and possibly car storage

- Ask town to plow/sand main part of driveway when they go past the airport

- Ask The Nature Conservancy to take over maintenance of land next to the Enchanted Forest

- Advertising campaign targeting pilots, possibly trying to fly in to visit the Greenway that is across the street

- In the busy season, keep an employee on to collect fees until dark

- Offer group discounts to flying clubs (10 or more planes pay a reduced fee

Coviello said parking at the airport is “a huge issue. There has to be a place for people to park their car long-term.”

Warcup said that paving the existing footprint of the parking lot could add enough space for another 20 cars without impacting the area of the airfield itself. He said that the airfield has room for a maximum of 110 planes.

Fredericks asked if boat storage at the airport was “a viable idea.”

First Warden Ken Lacoste, who was in attendance, joked, “I have a marina!” But he added that competition is “what makes America great.”

Island resident Kim Gaffett thought the airport would be an ideal location for some self-storage units — as long as they were out of sight.

At the end of the meeting, Fredericks thanked those in attendance, and said he looked forward to continuing the conversation. 

“Can we come back and do this again in a month or two?” he asked. Turning to Nancy Dodge, Fredericks said “we’d love to work with you individually and as a team.”

“We want to have a conversation,” said Dodge.


No comments:

Post a Comment