Dowe Returns to VIPA as Cyril King Airport Faces Possible Shutdown

Cyril E. King Airport. (Source file photo)
Cyril E. King Airport. (Source file photo)

V.I. Port Authority board members placed both of the territory’s airports under a “public exigency” declaration and issued a corporate credit card for the Aviation Division in hopes of keeping the feds from suspending the operating certificate for St. Thomas’ Cyril E. King Airport.

VIPA Executive Director Carlton Dowe said Tuesday the Federal Aviation Administration made its intent clear on July 19, citing the need for “timely remedial action” that is based on “inspection results since at least 2016 and VIPA’s continued failure to meet certain federal requirements at the airports.”

For months, VIPA officials have been working to soothe the FAA’s concerns. At a meeting at the end of May, after VIPA lost its aviation manager, officials announced that its Deputy Executive Director Anise Hodge would supervise the airports in both districts until the position, which they described as “critical” to the agency, is filled.

At the May meeting, then-acting Executive Director Damian Cartwright also spoke about an upcoming visit from the FAA, whose representatives were expected to be in the territory for an annual assessment meant to ensure that airport operations were safe and in compliance with federal standards. At the time, Cartwright told board members he had pulled all of the Port Authority’s aviation resources, particularly the maintenance staff, to make sure everything was up to snuff and that, while recent rain delayed a few projects, field crews would be coming in to cut and maintain airfields on both islands.

Citing specific signage and lighting issues at the airports, Cartwright assured the board in May that on any given day there can be problems, but that doesn’t mean the airports’ inspections will be compromised.

The FAA levied the Port Authority with fines last January following an inspection that pushed VIPA to consider structural changes in its operations, along with the purchase of certain equipment and the addition of certain personnel, among other things. Cartwright said during the May meeting that a settlement agreement has been drafted for review, which will come to the board for approval after being approved by the FAA.

Tuesday’s meeting on St. Thomas painted a more dire picture, however, with Dowe presenting his staff’s recommendation for public exigency after emerging with the board from an hours long executive session.

According to the recommendation, the Port must:
– Demonstrate by Wednesday, July 24, that it has obtained management personnel acceptable to the FAA, to oversee St. Thomas operations, and continue to maintain qualified personnel,
– Establish an FAA-approved correction plan by Aug. 19, and
– Complete all actions in the plan on a timely basis.

The approval of the corporate credit card – with a $100,000 spending limit for use only by the Aviation Division – is meant to address the FAA’s concerns about a cumbersome procurement process that could hamper any work from moving forward. The board tacked on a requirement Tuesday that would require VIPA’s staff to submit a monthly expenditure report.

Both the card and the public exigency declaration, which allows VIPA to go outside the public bidding process, will provide a faster way for emergency materials to be purchased or repairs to be made at the airports, officials said.

“They have indicated that even if VIPA successfully completes the remedial action … additional shortfalls outside the scope of the remedial action may lead the FAA to act against the St. Thomas airport’s operating certificate,” Dowe said during the meeting.

The board also authorized the creation of several new positions to go along with the order, most of which are engineers needed to round out the existing three-person engineering staff. These engineers can also oversee and monitor several of the port’s ongoing and future restoration projects, along with repair issues at its facilities, officials said.

Other positions include: an assistant to the executive director, a certified mechanic to diagnose and rebuild or repair mechanical equipment at CEKA and a procurement manager to monitor all of VIPA’s contracts with direct oversight of the purchasing departments in both districts.