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VIPA Looks for New Aviation Manager, Prepares for FAA Compliance Visit

Henry Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix. (File photo)
Henry Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix. (File photo)

The V.I. Port Authority is looking for a new aviation manager following the resignation last month of staff member Mitchell Todman, and board members were told that eight candidates have been shortlisted, with interviews to begin this week.

“This is a crucial position for us, especially in terms of making sure we stay in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration requirements,” VIPA acting Executive Director Damian Cartwright said at last week’s board meeting. In a separate statement, VIPA has said that its Deputy Executive Director Anise Hodge will supervise airport operations in both districts until the position is filled, and doesn’t expect any interruptions in either airport operations or the continuation of airport projects.

Meanwhile, FAA officials are expected to be in the territory this week for an annual assessment that ensures airport operations are safe and in compliance with federal standards. Cartwright told board members he has pulled all of the port’s aviation resources, particularly the maintenance staff, to make sure everything is up to snuff, and that while recent rain delayed a few projects, field crews will be coming in to cut and maintain airfields on both islands.

Speaking in his monthly report about specific signage and lighting issues at the airports, Cartwright assured the board that on any given day, there can be problems, but that doesn’t mean the airports’ inspections will be compromised. The bigger concern is that the port doesn’t have the capability to remove the striping of the airfield at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas, but Cartwright said that bids are out for the project and due on June 7.

“What I’m looking at is budgeting for some equipment that will allow us to rehab our markings and do our own rubber removal so we can better maintain the airfield on short notice instead of contracting and waiting for the services to be completed,” he proposed as a solution moving forward.

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

Cartwright also spoke about the execution of a memorandum of understanding with Aerostar, which manages and operates San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. A contingent of VIPA staff has traveled to Puerto Rico to observe airport operations there, and overall, left with the understanding that the FAA is “pleased” with how it runs.

“We want to establish an arrangement that will allow us to benefit from the emergency procurement of parts and other things,” Cartwright said, adding that he hopes to get more feedback from the FAA in June before sending the MOU onto the board for approval.

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