After failing to get off the runway two years ago, the Martha’s Vineyard Airport has filed a scaled-down capital improvement plan with the state and Federal Aviation Administration that includes far fewer parking spots but a slate of other significant renovation projects in response to shifting airport demand and use.

Checking in at the airport on a busy August day. — Ray Ewing

Still in its early stages and phased over the next decade, the $40 million plan focuses on the leasing of two new hangars, runway reconstruction, a terminal renovation and expansion, airplane parking and the installation of a right turn lane onto the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road to alleviate traffic congestion.

A 450-page final environmental impact report was submitted to the state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the FAA in May of this year, with a public comment period ending July 9. All projects still need approval and funding.

“None of the projects are proposed to increase or change the number, kinds, or flight patterns of aircraft using the airport,” a statement on the Martha’s Vineyard Airport website says.

The latest in a string of early-concept airport redevelopment proposals, the recent capital plan comes after the airport filed an environmental notification form in 2019 that proposed conceptual-level projects to double the airport terminal size, as well as the possible siting of 530 additional parking spaces at the facility, among other improvements.

But that plan never took off, facing public criticism about the expansion given a long-term, downward trend in airport traffic over the past two decades. Former airport director Ann Richart, who aggressively pursued funding for the projects, retired in 2020.

Under new leadership, the airport has significantly downsized the capital improvement plan, proposing about 500 fewer parking spots and limiting the proposed terminal building expansion to 9,000 additional square feet. The plan focuses on air-side redevelopments that include two new hangars, expanded aircraft parking and a runway rebuild.

At a recent meeting, Dukes County commissioners also cleared the way for a $6.8 million low-interest loan application to renovate the aging wastewater facility that services the airport and business park — a crucial part of any redevelopment plan.

A March letter to state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides said the plan changes were partly a response to significant public concern in 2019 that the projects intended to expand airport operations to accommodate an increased number of flights and passengers.

In an interview, airport director Geoff Freeman, who was hired in 2020, said the new concept plans responded to broader changes in airport use and demand.

Revised capital plan includes terminal expansion to better accommodate passengers and baggage handling. — Ray Ewing

In airport terminology, enplanements refers to the number of passengers boarding flights, while operations refers to the number of distinct aircraft takeoffs or landings.

While the number of planes landing at the airport has nosedived since the late 20th century, from approximately 40,000 to 50,000 operations in the 1990s to current numbers in the mid-30,000s, the number of passengers arriving has remained steady at around 50,000 annual enplanements — about 10 per cent of all ferry-based Vineyard arrivals and departures.

Mr. Freeman said he doesn’t expect that number to grow significantly. In fact, he said that July 2021 operations numbers were down seven per cent from the same month in 2019.

“That will definitely cause pause to people, because obviously we’ve been very busy here,” Mr. Freeman said. “But the dynamics within those numbers have changed. We’re seeing fewer smaller, piston-type aircraft, and an uptick in the number of turbine and jet operations.”

The increased jet presence, as well as a requirement by the FAA for airports to create additional revenue sources, have prompted the need for the airport to improve access to its fuel farm, as well as release land for the private development of two hangars, according to the FAA filing. The hangars would be 9,200 and 15,234 square feet.

“There is a need for hangars, like garages for a home for a vehicle,” Mr. Freeman said. He also said jet fuel is one of the airport’s largest income sources during the summer, particularly in recent years. “Fuel sales have been on an uptick this season,” Mr. Freeman said.

And while operations have decreased overall, Mr. Freeman explained, the transition from a larger number of smaller planes to a smaller number of larger planes has meant that more passengers are arriving at the airport at the same time, straining terminal facilities during peak summer months, when the airport handles passenger overflow with a tent.

Built in 1999 — just prior to the creation of the TSA in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks — the airport terminal is currently 13,000 square feet and was not designed to accommodate modern security, baggage claim and waiting area facilities, according to Mr. Freeman.

Still in its early stages the $40 million plan would be phased in over the next decade. — Ray Ewing

The proposed renovation and expansion would add 9,000 square feet to the rear of the building for baggage facilities, security and waiting areas. The building’s exterior would not be significantly altered.

“We’re not going to be enlarging this building to accommodate more passengers. It’s just to really be able to facilitate a smooth operation for the passengers that we are experiencing now,” Mr. Freeman said.

According to the phased plan, improvements to the fuel farm and hangar additions could start as early as 2022, pending regulatory approvals and funding, with runway reconstruction occurring in 2023. The terminal building renovation is not slated until 2028 — two years after the airport is scheduled to begin an update to its master plan.

The final aspects of the capital improvement, scheduled preliminarily for 2029 and 2030, include an additional 47 aircraft parking spaces and traffic improvements to the airport’s access road that intersects with the state-owned Edgartown-West Tisbury Road — an area that has seen considerable recent congestion as Island traffic increases more broadly. The airport has stationed a traffic officer at the intersection for peak times this summer.

While a roundabout would have the greatest impact on traffic, the filing states, it would also be the most expensive alternative. A dedicated right turn lane out of the access road was deemed more appropriate, considering its cost effectiveness.

“We’re looking . . . for an investment to fix an issue that runs maybe two months, to two and a half months, out of the year,” Mr. Freeman said. “But we’re constantly evaluating these processes . . . and we’ll be evaluating a lot of these issues once again.”

He emphasized that aspects of the plan remain preliminary and will only come to fruition depending on need and funding. And he noted that there were lessons learned from the 2019 capital improvement plan.

“What we did in our last public review was look at what we needed in a very simplistic, responsible manner,” Mr. Freeman said. “We don’t need a large terminal. But we need something that can adapt easily to the summer months.”