RIAC defends parking plan for Block Island, Westerly airports

GROUNDED FLIGHT: The Block Island Airport is one of the facilities that will be managed by AvPORTS under a new agreement. The company will receive $150,000 annually, with the state airport corporation responsible for all profits or losses. /
THE R.I. AIRPORT CORP. says a parking program proposed for the Block Island State Airport, pictured above, and Westerly State Airport is being developed by its fixed-base operator FlightLevel to ensure it pays for itself.

PROVIDENCE – The R.I. Airport Corp. says a fee-based parking program planned for two state airports is being developed to help ensure it can pay for itself and that it does not unfairly single out Block Island State Airport and Westerly State Airport.

John Goodman, spokesman for RIAC, says the parking program is being designed by its fixed-base operator FlightLevel to meet the needs of New Shoreham officials, who wanted a way to ensure abandoned vehicles could be removed from the island’s airport.

But Henry duPont, who is chair of the Block Island State Airport Stakeholders Group, and a pilot, told Providence Business News on Friday that the plan shared with him by FlightLevel is opposed by his group because he believes it discriminates against Block Island and Westerly by focusing only on them.

He said RIAC would use signage at the airport that would provide instructions for downloading a mobile app for charging a parking fee of $10 per day. He noted that Block Island’s airport has 120 parking spaces, so RIAC’s parking program would generate up to $35,000 per month in revenue for the state.

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RIAC would receive 80% of the revenue, while its third party operator, FlightLevel, would garner 20%, he said.

Goodman on Saturday did not immediately returns calls seeking more details on the plans. In an email late Friday night he said that they have not been finalized and that discussions are ongoing. But he added that Westerly and Block Island airports are the only two airports in the region with regular commercial service to an island that do not charge for vehicle parking.

“RIAC asked … FlightLevel to develop a sustainable parking management program that can work towards this goal [for the state’s general-aviation airports] of self-sustainability, while meeting the needs of the town, including removing abandoned vehicles,” said Goodman.

He said the preliminary rates of $10 a day or a 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 that Rhode Island aircraft owners benefit from the lowest aircraft registration fees and low fuel flowage fees compared to neighboring states.

“These owners also benefit from Rhode Island not charging an aviation fuel tax like neighboring states,” he said. “In 2019 alone, Connecticut received more than $7 million dollars and Massachusetts received approximately $36 million from aviation fuel taxes that are charged to aircraft owners. RIAC general-aviation airports currently operate at a negative cash flow of more than $2 million which is ultimately financed on the backs of the commercial airlines operating at T.F. Green Airport.”

Goodman noted that RIAC is developing ways to increase revenue at all the general- aviation airports to help them cover the cost of their operations.

Lois Bendokas, who is a co-owner of New England Airlines, which flies to the island from Westerly, told PBN on Friday the airport has not had parking fees during the 50 years the airline has been operation. She opposes a parking program for both airports.

New Shoreham Town Councilor Mark Emmanuelle said Saturday that he hopes to have a meeting with RIAC officials soon “to discuss numerous airport related issues,” including the proposed parking program.

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Shuman@PBN.com.

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