PROVIDENCE – The manager of the state’s municipal airports says it is developing a parking program for Block Island and Westerly that would institute fees that are industry standard and allow it to curb financial losses at the affected airports.
Peter Eichleay, owner and CEO of Norwood, Mass.-based FlightLevel Aviation, told Providence Business News on Monday the company has been evaluating parking situations at all five state airports. “It quickly became evident that the parking situations at [the Block Island State Airport] and [Westerly State Airport] were by far the worst,” he said. “This was primarily due to a plethora of abandoned vehicles and unaccounted for owners. The program we’re contemplating would solve those problems.”
Eichleay said the reason for the planned parking program is that the Rhode Island Airport Corp., which operates and maintains the state’s airport system and hired FlightLevel, “operates at a significant deficit, as does FlightLevel, at these airports. This [fee program] would be a way for them [and] us to gain revenue and offset some of that loss. We have only been considering [parking fee] rates at the lowest end of the spectrum.”
Eichleay said it was FlightLevel’s recommendation to RIAC to institute a parking program at the airports to bring their service in line with other airports in the region that have regular commercial service, such as New Bedford, Hyannis, New Haven, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
“As it stands now, the [Block Island State Airport] and [Westerly State Airport] are the outliers,” he said, adding details of the program are still being developed.
New England Airlines, which flies to the island from Westerly, and the Block Island State Airport Stakeholders’ Group have opposed preliminary parking plans they’ve seen because they focus on only two airports and because they think the proposed fees could lead some travelers to choose ferry instead of air service.
RIAC spokesman John Goodman has told PBN preliminary rates of $10 a day or discounted annual pass options would be low compared to those charged at most other airports in neighboring states whose parking charges range from $10 to $20 a day.
Goodman added, “Flightlevel Aviation reported to us that New England Airlines was previously on board [with the program], however we have asked FlightLevel to reach out again to the owners to develop a plan that is workable. This is one of the jobs for which they were hired as airport manager and fixed-base operator.”
Henry duPont, chairman of the Block Island State Airport Stakeholders’ Group, and a pilot, says FlightLevel officials at the airport have told him the proposal calls for a mobile app-based parking system that would charge $10 per day after three free hours. He also claims enforcement would be imposed by affixing a plastic shield called “The Barnacle” to a vehicle’s windshield.
DuPont added he was told the program could potentially generate about $35,000 per month utilizing 120 parking spaces at Block Island’s airport.
Eichleay, however, claims the $35,000 revenue estimate “is ludicrous” and added The Barnacle system will not be part of the program.
Goodman says the high-end revenue estimate for the program is about $5,800 a month.
In response, duPont asserted FlightLevel has been “floating out a proposed program through their surrogates” and should instead formally share the plan with the community and allow for public comment.
Goodman said that “when there is an actual proposal provided to us by FlightLevel, the on-site manager, we will provide that to the community.”
New Shoreham Town Councilor Mark Emmanuelle told PBN he hopes to have a meeting with RIAC officials soon to discuss the parking program.
Bill Bendokas, co-owner of New England Airlines, said a parking program is “shortsighted” and would be detrimental to the airline’s bottom line, and could spur travelers to opt for traveling on the Block Island Ferry out of Pt. Judith instead.
“Charging people for parking will drive people to the ferry from flying – period,” said Bendokas. “You don’t need to charge at all. And if you are going to charge, keep it to the peak [summer] season, when people expect to pay more for an almost tourist-oriented service. But I can’t stress enough how much this will negatively affect our bottom line.”
Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com.
Want to share this story? Click Here to purchase a link that allows anyone to read it on any device whether or not they are a subscriber.