Over the past three years, because of a new airport commission deeply committed to the success of the airport, a number of necessary public improvements have been made. A short list includes the construction of a modern fire station replacing a dilapidated 50-year-old building, giving the terminal building a needed coat of paint, repairing roof leaks, renovating and modernizing tired restrooms, and beginning to make the neglected grounds around the terminal more welcoming. Obviously there is much more to do, but making up for years of deferred maintenance and outright neglect has and continues to require both time and funding. More updates to enhance the experience of air travelers to and from the Island, and the many regular users of the restaurant and other businesses are in various stages of planning and implementation. There is more to come.

What hasn’t gone so well in recent time is the new parking system that was begun on June 1. It was necessitated because of multiple problems. Travelers were regularly parking for days in the restaurant lot when they should have been parking (and paying) in the long-term lot. This took up spaces for restaurant patrons who, on occasion, could not find a place to park. Some people had also been parking in the long-term lot, but unfortunately most were not paying as it was operated on the honor system. Operations staff attempted to police the system of leaving envelopes on the windshields of cars parked overnight, but that proved ineffective, and took them away from their airfield duties. Aside from the lost revenue, the system wasn’t fair to those who were responsible and paid what they owed.

The solution was to implement a system of entrance and exit gates on the parking lots similar to those used at other airports such as Nantucket and Hyannis. An experienced contractor, LAZ, was hired to install and operate the system. Unfortunately, insufficient public notice and outreach was provided in advance, and the assurances by LAZ that the equipment was operating properly proved to be unwarranted. The actual performance of the system to date has been very poor. We apologize for all the inconvenience and frustration that has been caused many people trying to get into and out of the lots. We are pursuing aggressive remedies with LAZ, including better signage, and we have to ask for a bit more patience from the public. This has been a difficult learning process for us all.

To clarify: everyone gets three hours of free parking; six hours if you have an Island Card. The cost beyond three (or six) hours is the same for both the restaurant and long-term lots. The “help” function, which has been intermittent, either through the ticket dispensers or the live persons supposedly available at the entrance/exits, is going to become dependably functional, which it hasn’t been.

Beyond the already realized improvements, and the regrettable parking system problems, a host of unseen changes and upgrades have occurred. An important one is that the tense relationship with the FAA and Mass DOT of several years ago, that threatened the airport’s commercial operating license, has been transformed into a cordial, and smooth relationship that provided over $10 million in FAA funding for the beautiful new fire station. The airport has gotten excellent FAA inspection reports in recent time. Members of the public may not be aware that many airport capital projects are eligible for 95 per cent funding from the FAA and Mass DOT. The consequences are that the airport, including the business park, has to live by their rules, and requirements, and that is simply a fact of life.

A final word needs to be said about the airport business park. Many, if not most, Island residents do not use the airport for aeronautical purposes, but the restaurant, tennis center, animal hospital, liquor store, laundromat, among a variety of other businesses are important services to a wide public. There are some 40 tenants in the business park, and apart from being extremely important to the economy of the Island, they provide operating revenue to the airport, as required by the FAA. That has been a successful arrangement now for many years, and relieves the six towns of any financial responsibility for the airport, which they would otherwise have. There have been some well-publicized problems with some of the leases and fees associated with tenancy, but like most problems they can be worked out with transparency, and good will by all the parties. We strive to achieve such an end result.

Robert Rosenbaum is chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission.