Updated August 2 at 3:11pm

Waiting game for airport expansion

To Iron Works Tavern owner Joseph Piscopio, the expansion of T.F. Green Airport’s main runway makes too much economic sense not to happen. So why continue to waste money fighting it?

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TRANSPORTATION

Waiting game for airport expansion

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To Iron Works Tavern owner Joseph Piscopio, the expansion of T.F. Green Airport’s main runway makes too much economic sense not to happen. So why continue to waste money fighting it?

“I think the area will boom,” said Piscopio, whose restaurant is across the street from a new InterLink train station on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick that serves the airport. “Direct flights are what it is all about. No one wants to stop over.”

That’s why he and many other business leaders in and out of the city have grown weary and frustrated by the many hurdles that have delayed the airport’s long-sought expansion plan – including the latest – a federal court appeal by the Warwick City Council.

“We have been talking about the necessity of lengthening the runway for a decade now and the airport’s competitive disadvantage for a decade,” said Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White after hearing of the appeal. “We thought we had come to the end of the line when the (Federal Aviation Administration) issued the final statements and approved the master plan.”

“Disappointing” was the word used by the Chamber and the Rhode Island Building and Trades Council in a joint statement about the appeal, while “frustrated” was the description from R.I. Airport Corporation CEO Kevin Dillon.

“These are straw men that are being thrown out,” Dillon said about arguments from councilors that the airport’s $200 million construction plans are vague and don’t provide necessary legal protection for the community. “The City Council sat on its hands and did not come back with any suggested language, concerns or any additional items. It is kind of hollow for them to sit there today and say it lacks specificity.”

The appeal, which could last up to three years if there is no settlement, has brought the expansion project to a halt at a time when Dillon said T.F. Green’s short runways are a leading contributor to the airport’s persistent decline in passengers.

“It keeps us at a competitive disadvantage in this industry – airlines are being subjected to weight penalties,” Dillon said, referring to the fact that many planes leave T.F. Green at less than full capacity because of the short runway. “I believe some airlines have left because of this issue. The reality here is over time we have become an inefficient place for airlines.”

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richard@langseth.com

The idea that passenger jet weight penalties are hurting Green Airport are ridiculous beyond belief!

Kevin Dillon's RIAC has imposed an 18.5% increase in landing fees last year according to RIAC's FAA filing. These landing fee increases seem to be driving USAir and other airlines to switch to regional jets to avoid increased landing fees on declining passenger volumes. USAir was down 20% in this October versus 2010. The switch to regional jets decrease the seats available and lead to lower passenger fees. This downward trend is going to be very difficult to deal with.

Last year RIAC's operating revenues for Green Airport were down by 1.97% while operating expenses increased by 2.84% leading to RIAC's first operating loss for Green of ($626,102).

Against this backdrop the Providence Chamber of Commerce keeps pushing the RIAC board to throw caution to the wind and borrow tens of millions to "extend the runway" in this a year of financial uncertainty for RIAC. Passenger counts keep dropping even now and landing fees will have to be increased again to keep the airport in business. This means more conversions to regional jets with their lower landing fees, fewer seats, and lower passenger counts.

How does the Providence Chamber propose to have RIAC cover the debt service for this increased borrowing to fix the pollution problems required by EPA, fix the safety issues, and extend the runway? Even if RIAC gets the maximum funding possible from FAA, it will still have to borrow at least $45 million in excess of what FAA could possibly provide? RIAC would have to pass the debt service off to the airlines in increased landing fees which would possibly lead to a total collapse in passenger jet service as landing fees exceed those of Boston Logan. Southwest Airlines only has so much patience with high cost airports in low potential passenger areas such as T.F. Green.

The bottom line here is that the Chamber of Commerce needs to sit down with RIAC and go over these financials. This is important because we need an airport that actually attracts airlines not one that forces them to head for the hills! It is far more important for the Chamber of Commerce to preserve what we have at Green Airport rather than be a cheerleader for a useless labor-backed infrastructure project that lines the pockets of the construction industry while driving the airlines to Boston's Logan airport.

Does this sound anything like the pension crisis? You bet it does.

Iron Works Tavern owner Joseph Piscopio should lead the charge to a more conservative management style at Green Airport. As the airlines switch more and more to regional jets, his restaurant will lose more airline crew business because regional jet crews eat in the crew lounge or Mac Donalds, rather than the Iron Works.

Saturday, December 10, 2011 | Report this
stevenmedeiros@mac.com

Thanks for sharing your phony, baseless and ignorant argument with us, Richard. I know exactly where to file this.

Saturday, December 10, 2011 | Report this
richard@langseth.com

Steven:

Thanks for your post. It demonstrates to the business readers and the Chamber of Commerce why RIAC is having the problems with the Warwick City Council that it has. Posts such as yours encourages the council members to retain legal representation to make sure that all the ts are crossed and is dotted.

Tell me what is phony about the official FAA grant financing information that RIAC filed with the FAA. Google FAA CATS database and review the 2011 Form 127 and explain the $626,102 operating loss for Green Airport against RIAC's claims in the press that it made over $2 million in operating profits for the system as a whole during the same period. Did RIAC make a $2.5 million profit at Quonset Point Airport?

RIAC suddenly discovered $39 million in unallocated cash on November 23, 2011 according to the revised 2010 grant form. That is enough to move ahead with the safety improvements without waiting for the FAA to figure out where it is going to get the money to continue its operations.

Perhaps the readership would be interested in what's happening in Washington as Congress cycles down for the holidays. Here is the latest from an industry group, the International Helicopter Association that shows that Congress will have less than a week to solve the FAA's grants financing problem when it gets back in January. The only solution that I know of is more shutdown days at FAA which leads to more confusion about whether RIAC will see any federal financing of its expansion program. These are very real problems that the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce needs to get its arms around as it continues to advocate fiscal disaster for T.F. Green Airport:

"The word on the street in Washington is that neither the House nor Senate will consider the FAA bill before the end of the year. When Congress does return in January, scant time remains - just over one week, which equates to five legislative days in the House and five to seven days in the Senate - for lawmakers to come to an agreement on the FAA bill before the current extension expires on Jan. 31, 2012."

"Posted on Thursday, December 08, 2011 (Archive on Monday, January 01, 0001)

Posted by NStaff"

http://rotor.com/Publications/RotorNewssupregsup/tabid/177/newsid1237/74346/mid/1237/Default.aspx

Saturday, December 10, 2011 | Report this
richard@langseth.com

RIAC or the FAA has now reset the T.F. Green Airport FAA CATS 127 filing to all zeros for 2011. This filing was due in October. 60 day extensions for good cause are routinely made. The filing must be made by December 22, 2011.

Sunday, December 11, 2011 | Report this
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