Airport Commission welcomes interim manager, discusses ARFF costs

Rod Dinger will take over until a full-time manager is hired in May.

Interim airport manager Rod Dinger suggested a passenger facility charge might help cover upcoming project costs. – Photo by Cathryn McCann

There were several new faces at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission meeting on Thursday afternoon, March 10. The commission welcomed two newly appointed members, Don Ogilvie – who was not present – and Kristin Zern, and newly hired interim airport manager Rod Dinger. Despite the additions, it was mainly business as usual for the commission, which largely focused on how to fund the upcoming construction of an airport rescue and firefighting (ARFF) and snow removal equipment (SRE) building.

The design process for the combined building is several years behind schedule. In June, the airport came under fire following an annual Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspection. One of the issues was the delayed design process of the ARFF/SRE building. At that time, the FAA informed airport officials that the SRE portion of the building was off the table.

“The delay of the design of this building has cost us very dearly,” acting airport commission chairman Robert Rosenbaum said.

Since the FAA inspection, airport officials and commissioners have worked to cut the overall cost of the building, and agreed to switch the design of the building to a modular construction, similar to the Oak Bluffs fire station.

Thursday, Mr. Rosenbaum said he was informed by FAA officials that with compliance issues settled, the construction can once again include the SRE building. Following funding changes, the FAA will cover 88 percent of the overall $10.6 million combined ARFF/SRE building construction cost. Including funding from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, that leaves about $1.1 million to be paid by the airport, plus about $500,000 — 5 percent — the airport was initially required to pay for the project, and now an additional $1.5 million for the SRE portion, which will not be reimbursed right away by the FAA.

That leaves a total of about $3 million to be paid out of the airport’s budget, if the construction is to be done in one effort.

“I’ve reached out to our attorney to start exploring various funding options, and will be reporting back as information becomes available,” Mr. Rosenbaum said.

In other business, the commission welcomed new interim airport manager Rod Dinger. His temporary hire was necessary to bridge the gap between the departure of acting airport manager Deborah Potter in March and the expected hiring of a full-time airport manager in May.

“I have been working closely with him for the past four days now, and am thrilled to report that I am extremely pleased with the ways things are going,” Mr. Rosenbaum said. “He dived right in, and things are working out extremely well.”

Mr. Dinger has worked in the airport industry for 30 years, most recently managing two airports in Redding, Calif. At Thursday’s meeting, he raised the possibility of implementing a Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) as a means to cover some of the upcoming project costs. The fee, about $4.42 for each plane passenger, can be used for capital improvements at the airport. Many surrounding-area airports already implement this fee, he said.

After the meeting, Mr. Dinger said he does have goals for the airport, despite only holding the position for a short time.

“First is continuing to learn all the players and the direction and desires of the staff and the direction and desires of the commission,” he said. “I think there are a lot of areas that I can improve; I can suggest some changes.”

He named goals for finding revenue sources for the airport, including the PFC program and paid parking, to offset costs of major projects. His hope is to “expose the decision makers to those options so that way they can take that under consideration.”

“Will we be able to get any of those in play while I’m here?” he said. “I’ll only be here a couple months. Hopefully I can lay the foundation for different programs and projects to improve upon the airport operation.”

Meanwhile, a search committee working with a professional search firm has winnowed the candidate pool down to seven people. “We have some good candidates … The process is moving ahead quite well,” Mr. Rosenbaum said.

Once the committee has chosen three or four final candidates, they will turn the process over to the airport commission.

At the end of the meeting, the commission briefly thanked Ms. Potter for her time as assistant airport manager and acting airport manager.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ms. Deb Potter for her years of service,” Mr. Rosenbaum said. “I for one appreciate your service, and wish you well and wish you good health.”