To the Editor:
A new billboard on the Airport Connector asks if you are going to heaven or to hell. It replaces a Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) billboard that announced new flights to Raleigh-Durham. Delta, the airline providing this service, is pulling those flights on September 1, 2011. That's why RIAC abandoned the billboard.
Those waiting for RIAC to buy their noise-rattled homes have had their own heaven-or-hell challenge going on for a long time. "When will the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be finalized?" they ask. More importantly, will RIAC have the money to buy them out if the proposed runway extension goes forward?
But wait - there's more! The whole environmental study process has just imploded! Congressional funding for all FAA airport improvements around the country has been suspended. The FAA airport improvement employees working on our EIS have been furloughed, according to state officials here in Rhode Island. This means another delay in the final FAA Record of Decision (ROD) and more uncertainty for those 300 or so families living in the path of the proposed runway extension at Green.
CBS News reported on Tuesday night that "GOP senators confirmed their intention to continue to block legislation to restore FAA's operating authority unless Democrats give ground on Republican proposals to ... make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize." Many news sources are reporting that the outlook for a quick end to this mess is bleak.
In the meantime, The Beacon reported in "City wants more runway analysis" that RIAC is unlikely to proceed if federal funding is not available.
When Congress brings the FAA employees back to work on a permanent basis, the aircraft fleet mix rules will have changed. The "design aircraft" used to justify a longer runway at Green will have been outlawed. The now-stalled Congressional funding bill for airport improvements bans these bed-shaking Boeing 767s.
RIAC's grant funds' request to support these planes would be rejected for not meeting FAA rules.
Just that one point alone is ample justification for the City of Warwick to demand a new runway calculation. Mr. Dillon continued: "I don't know how much more analysis you could do ... It's time to bring it to a conclusion." Unfortunately for him, more analysis is indeed required because the FAA has run out of money and Congress is about to change the rules concerning the Boeing 767.
Money is really tight in Washington. Funding requests for boondoggle projects are being thrown out for lack of funds. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is fighting to fund "NextGen." NextGen replaces the World War II-era air traffic control system still in use in the United States. It replaces the old brute-force approach to air traffic control with technology.
NextGen's GPS approach could solve many regional air traffic capacity issues, and would totally obliterate RIAC's argument that the longer runway at Green would solve some capacity issues at Boston's Logan Airport. Controllers there could handle more planes per hour under NextGen.
NextGen could also solve a big problem that RIAC has at Block Island State Airport. Its runway approach lighting system is in shambles. The April 2011 environment assessment for that airport shows an electrical control box for this lighting system dangling from its mount, resting partially on the ground and patched up with duck tape.
RIAC's approach to fixing this problem is to yank up the navigational system and not replace it at all.
This scales back the availability of Block Island State Airport during inclement weather, basically forcing its closing when the weather gets too thick.
The other approach the one I advocate is for RIAC to jump on the NextGen bandwagon. Make full use of GPS systems, starting at Block Island State Airport. Let the world know that RIAC has selected NextGen to make Rhode Island's airports much safer.
The dream of every politician is to "create jobs." Rhode Island has a 200-year history of creating jobs through the development of science and technology.
Following this model, we can build a high-tech industry around NextGen, while using it to solve our airport problems.
We all hope that the FAA employees get their jobs back very soon. The bigger issue for us is how to recapture jobs here in Rhode Island. Our full buy-in to NextGen starts us down that road. As Mr. Dillon suggested, it is time to move on. Let's do it through NextGen to increase safety and capacity, while creating jobs in the process.