The Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission waived past-due electrical utility bills and an incremental rent increase for the Plane View Restaurant at the commission’s meeting Thursday.
Although the popular Island restaurant — located in the airport terminal — continued to operate during the pandemic, revenues were half in 2020 what they were in 2019, according to commissioner and land use subcommittee chair Geoff Wheeler.
Now the restaurant is in arrears with the airport, but commissioners unanimously supported the idea of providing some relief.
“[Robert] Jackson has come to us a couple of times — about six months ago, and then again a few weeks ago, and has asked for some relief in some of his past-due amounts,” Wheeler said. “It was very clear the effects of COVID on his net revenue in 2020.”
The restaurant’s new agreement for this fiscal year with the airport falls under a concession agreement, which requires that the concessionaire pay a fee based on a percentage of their gross revenue.
But commissioners decided to waive that fee another year, and make it effective in the next term of the restaurant’s lease, which starts in April 2022.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued guidance related to terminal concessionaires during the height of the pandemic, essentially suggesting that airports consider not charging anything to their concessionaires.
“Obviously, only a few airports have done that in select cases,” Wheeler said. He added that although that might not be possible for Martha’s Vineyard Airport, they can still provide some significant relief.
Commissioners also decided to waive the incremental rent increase that amounts to around $200 a month, which Wheeler said would not significantly affect FY21 financials for the airport.
Wheeler said he thinks the restaurant “should be fine,” as Jackson expressed to him that they received a good deal of relief funds from the federal and state governments.
“He has received enough money to pay his rent for the full year,” Wheeler said, although the restaurant still hasn’t paid all of its back rent.
Aviation traffic soars
After a relatively dismal summer season compared with past years, Martha’s Vineyard Airport is buzzing with Island visitors, and the air traffic numbers bear that out.
According to airport director Geoff Freeman, June airline enplanements saw a 1,210 percentage increase over last year, compared with 718 the previous year.
In FY21 so far, there have been 9,405 commercial passengers coming and going at the airport, and air traffic control operations for the month of June reached 5,960 total arrivals and departures — a change of 71.2 percent over last June. Overall air traffic control operations were up over 2019 and 2018, respectively.
“Aviation Is definitely coming back,” Freeman said. Even with recent inclement weather, he said, aviation traffic has been steady.
Inside the terminal building Thursday, benches were jam-packed with travelers, and the traffic on Airport Road leading onto West Tisbury Road from the terminal was backed up all the way to the time-restricted parking lot nearest the General Aviation building.
Currently, the airport has no contract with the West Tisbury Police to conduct traffic control on, or at the end of, Airport Road (although they can request a detail at the terminal itself).
In other business, commission chair Bob Rosenbaum said the environmentally-driven landing fee legislation proposed by state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, is more or less dead in the water.
The controversial legislation, which Cyr said was meant to spark “meaningful conversation” regarding the impact the aviation industry has on climate change and the environment, sought to impose a $1,000 landing fee on certain aircraft, with exemptions for small personal aircraft, aircraft used for instructional or benevolent purposes, and several others.
The bill, as it’s currently written, would divert 50 percent of the funds raised from the aircraft fees to a fund that would help repair state infrastructure that has been affected or damaged by climate change. The airport would be able to keep the other 50 percent.
Rosenbaum said that, at a joint legislative hearing on June 24 before the House and Senate transportation committee, both chairs of the committee said they oppose the bill.
“That was just a hearing, but my understanding is they will most likely deep-six this during a later working session,” Rosenbaum said. “One way or another, [the bill] is dead.”