RIAC not implementing proposed airport parking fee this summer

THE RHODE ISLAND AIRPORT CORPORATION has decided to forego implementation of a proposed fee-based parking program at the Block Island (pictured) and Westerly state airports until the fall. / PHOTO COURTESY OF HENRY DUPONT

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Airport Corp. on Thursday said it will delay implementing a fee-based parking program it is developing for the Block Island and Westerly state airports until at least September.

“There will not be a launch of this program over the summer,” Brian Schattle, RIAC chief financial officer, told Providence Business News. “The specifics are still being developed” by FlightLevel Aviation, the fixed-base operator at the Block Island State Airport, for planned implementation in September.

Schattle said RIAC is still getting input from FlightLevel regarding the proposed parking program. “Once the plan is finalized we will share it with the public,” he said.

John Goodman, spokesman for RIAC, confirmed the agency “will talk with [New Shoreham] and see what works best. The public will certainly provide feedback, and we’ll let the process play out.”

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House Minority Leader Blake A. Filippi, R-New Shoreham, said that RIAC contacted his office and informed him of their plans to delay implementing the parking program.

“I don’t know that they truly understood how detrimental a parking program at Block Island and Westerly would be to our lifeline New England Airlines, and the Block Island community,” said Filippi of RIAC officials, who he, along with Sen. Susan Sosnowski, D-New Shoreham, met with a week ago. “They were essentially trying to tax one community, and we don’t play that game.

“They’re in the business of turning a profit,” he continued. “I get it, but you can’t do that at the expense of the public service that is provided by the airports,” he said, noting that a number of people fly to and from Block Island because they don’t have to pay for parking.

Bill Bendokas, co-owner of New England Airlines, said he wasn’t surprised by RIAC’s decision to delay implementation of a fee-based parking plan “because of the overwhelming disagreement from all sides with their proposed policy change.

“I hope in the future that they will look at it from a perspective that they are currently not using,” said Bendokas, who opposes charging for parking at the Block Island airport. “They are looking at it from purely an aviation perspective through a T.F. Green filter. They have to look at it from a perspective of local Block Island traffic, that is not connected to any other aviation or airport system.”

Peter Eichleay, owner and CEO of Norwood, Mass.-based FlightLevel Aviation, has told PBN the reason for the planned parking program is that RIAC, 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.”

Goodman previously told PBN preliminary rates of $10 a day or discounted annual pass options that have been considered would be low compared to those charged at most other airports in neighboring states whose parking charges range from $10 to $20 a day.

Henry duPont, chair of the Block Island State Airport Stakeholders’ Group, said he’s happy parking fees won’t be implemented at the airport this summer, in part because he said they “would not result in any improvements in the airport parking lots.”

He said any revised plan “must come with airport parking lot improvements and be commensurate with parking program costs at the state’s Department of Environmental Management parking lot in Galilee, if the airport parking program will not serve to hurt New England Airlines, the island’s air transportation lifeline.”

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

 

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