The Martha’s Vineyard Airport commission (MVAC) met last week and addressed what airport commission chairman Myron Garfinkle said are significant Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) non-compliance issues that stand to jeopardize future funding and the airport’s Part 139 status as a commercial airport if the findings are not addressed by an October 15 deadline.
Mr. Garfinkle and vice-chairman Robert Rosenbaum described the outstanding issues at an MVAC meeting on Thursday, August 13, after meeting a Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) representative at the airport on August 11.
Mr. Garfinkle said after the annual FAA inspection in May, four areas were found to be non-compliant: the aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) building construction project, the wildlife management plan, employee performance, and runway markings. Two of the four areas, the wildlife management plan and runway markings, were deemed areas of significant non-compliance.
“The FAA made it clear that we have not made an effort to correct these non-compliance issues over a significant period of time, and in some cases in well over a year,” Mr. Garfinkle read from a prepared statement. Any further delay could put a grant request of $8 million dollars into jeopardy, he said.
He said the airport initially received funding in 2011 of over $850,000 to go toward plans and permits for the construction of the new ARFF building. The FAA expected 100 percent of the designs to be done within one year, but now, four years later, there has been little progress on the project.
Mr. Rosenbaum said the FAA representative said non-compliance issues in other airports were not necessarily unusual, but once uncovered there is typically due diligence to quickly correct them, which hasn’t been the case for the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. As a result, the airport is now under an October 15 deadline to address markings on the runway and create an adequate wildlife management program.
MVAC member Richard Michelson asked why the issues were not addressed in a timely manner. Mr. Garfinkle said he could not speculate on the past but going forward “we will do what we can to bring ourselves into compliance as quickly as possible.”
Commissioner Christine Todd, who tuned in to the meeting via video, looked for a clearer answer.
“Can we, with full and total confidence know that these matters are being dealt with in a swift and efficient manner so that the FAA will be satisfied within the timeframe they have set for us?” she asked.
“I can only answer that with the commitment that we will give you our best efforts,” Mr. Garfinkle responded. “There’s a lot of work to be done in order to get into compliance. I feel guardedly confident that we will do it.”
Airport manager Sean Flynn was not present at the meeting. In a telephone conversation with The Times on Wednesday, Mr. Garfinkle said that Mr. Flynn is on vacation. “He gave me notice that it was time for him to take a vacation, and I certainly respected that,” he said. “He’s got a lot of vacation hours built up, so he’s entitled to that.”
According to one source close to management who spoke on condition of anonymity, Mr. Flynn was asked to take time off unconnected to disciplinary proceedings.
Mr. Garfinkle acknowledged there have been challenges with management but said the vacation was a mutually acceptable decision. The commission did not ask Mr. Flynn to take time off, he said.
Mr. Garfinkle said he’s been working 30 plus hours at the airport for the past several weeks. Asked why he as a member of the commission, a body charged with policy making, was taking a management role, Mr. Garfinkle pointed to the time frame
“I feel there’s a tremendous amount of work that has to be addressed in the next few weeks and the next couple of months, and whatever I can do to help the staff accomplish that is what I feel I should be doing,” he said. “I wish I didn’t have the opportunity to do that. The fact of the matter is that these are things that need to be done.”
Asked why he felt obligated to address that work instead of demanding that airport management attend to it, he said he was not allowed to discuss employee performance. Despite that, he said he’s not attempting to fill a management role.
“During these particular circumstances, I feel I can help airport management,” Mr. Garfinkle said, adding that he is “a facilitator helping them with tools, helping them understand how to prioritize their time so that they can contact the right people and feel free to spend the budgeted money to accomplish the goals that are urgent right now.”
“If you want to call that management, you can,” he said.
Mr. Rosenbaum said in a phone call Wednesday that although Mr. Flynn is on vacation, he is still on the Island. “He is not at the office,” he said. “He is on the Island and is available for any particular specific matters that may come up, but he is not actually at his office.”
He said that Deborah Potter, airport assistant manager, is filling in while Mr. Flynn is out. He said the length of the vacation “has not been determined at this point.”
Mr. Rosenbaum said he could not comment on whether the vacation was a decision made by Mr. Flynn or not.
He said that the loss of the airport’s Part 139 status would be an extreme punishment, although not inconceivable. “I’d say the nearer potential issue would be to lose funding for projects,” he said. “And then ultimately if these discrepancies continue over some period of time without being addressed, then I think the FAA may very well revoke the 139.”
He said one of the FAA’s main concerns, wildlife management, has to do with deer found within the perimeter fence. There haven’t been any sightings of deer on the runways or taxiways, he said, but their presence within the fence opens up the possibility of that occurrence.
Mr. Rosenbaum said the second issue, deteriorated runway and taxiway markings, is likely the result of snow and snow removal. “When you’re plowing the pavement, over time the markings tend to run down,” he said.
A third issue, employee performance, has more to do with staff training. Mr. Rosenbaum said training components for the staff were not being met.
Despite all of that, on Wednesday Mr. Garfinkle said that he felt upbeat about the attitude at the airport.
“We’re making remarkable progress,” he said. “Our focus is on getting into compliance before the deadline of October 15 and we’re focusing hard on doing everything we can.”