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VIPA Board Approves Airport Improvements, Looks Toward Long Term

Looking toward the future, V.I. Port Authority board members approved and discussed Wednesday items that would improve the territory’s airports and expand the services offered there, including lifts to help passengers with disabilities board the planes.

During a meeting on St. Thomas, VIPA officials said the authority is responsible for purchasing and providing the equipment, which would be operated and maintained by the airlines. According to VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe, the authority currently owns three Lift-A-Loft disabled passenger lifts at Cyril E. King on St. Thomas and one non-mechanical boarding ramp at St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport.

“The current lifts that we have are a challenge,” Dowe told the board, saying that one completely shuts down, while the other has been known to get stuck, sometimes with passengers on it.

“Our population has begun to need these services more and more, so we have to find a better way and a quicker way to provide them,” he added. Dowe said funds to buy the lifts were not originally budgeted for 2016, but that VIPA is able to reprogram money from another project that it splits with the Federal Aviation Administration.

While board members approved the purchase, they also spoke about a long-term plan for the airports that would put in them in complete compliance with American Disability Act standards.

According to VIPA Chief Financial Officer Donna Frett-Gregory, the authority has been in talks with the airlines to incorporate jet bridges – an enclosed, moveable boarding bridge that connects the airport terminal to the plane – into the airport design, but still has to work out funding for them.

“We have presented to the airlines a capital program and they have interest in it, so we have discussed implementing a new tariff that would cover the costs,” she said. “We would implement a program in 2016 that so we can go to market and get financing, but if they don’t have an appetite for it, then we would have to fund it ourselves.”

VIPA Board Chairman Roberto Cintron suggested Wednesday that the board discuss the idea more in property committee before moving forward.

For the airports, board members also discussed:

– sending out a request for proposals for a marine and aviation consultant;

– ongoing repairs at Rohlsen Airport, including the repairing of its apron. The rehabilitation project, now in its second phase, has been delayed but officials said Wednesday that they expect it to be restarted around May 2 and completed within six to eight weeks;

– the impact of the April 10 islandwide power outage at the Cyril E. King Airport. Officials said Wednesday that during the outage, the airfield’s generator didn’t come on, went into shutdown mode and could not be manually started from the control panel. A contractor was able to get the generator to start by going into the system and bypassing the controls, and officials said that the transfer switch for the air field also burned out.

A replacement for the switch was installed Wednesday, and VIPA chief engineer Dale Gregory explained that a review of the airport’s runway and taxi systems is being conducted to address any maintenance issues. Drawings for a runway skip circuit, a separate circuit of lights that can stay on during an outage to allow planes to land, are “in hand” and will be installed in the upcoming fiscal year, Gregory said.

In the past, the airport has also experienced electrical problems on taxiway B and Gregory said that the authority has a design in mind that would allow for the rehabbing of the entire surface, along with light replacements.

Bids for the projects will be out in the coming months, he said.

The board also approved a lease renewal for Alliance Aviation Fuels for 15 years. In exchange for the renewal, the company will invest at least $700,000 in a new building that would replace its 20-year-old office and reception area.

Gregory updated the board on the ongoing Crown Bay Dredging project and the installation of a mooring dolphin that has been added to the original project permit and resubmitted to the Army Corps of Engineers for approval. The dolphin will allow Oasis class cruise ships to berth on the south side of the Crown Bay pier if a larger ship is on the north side, he said.

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