2015-09-17 / Front Page

Airport Hangars Seen as Island Economic Boon

By Tom Walsh

Guillaume de Ramel of Newport, a pilot and airplane enthusiast, has built 10 hangar spaces on Oliphant Lane. With a waiting list he hopes to build more. (Photo by Jen Carter) Guillaume de Ramel of Newport, a pilot and airplane enthusiast, has built 10 hangar spaces on Oliphant Lane. With a waiting list he hopes to build more. (Photo by Jen Carter) Newport’s Guillaume de Ramel, a recent Democratic candidate for Rhode Island secretary of state, is now behind a project at Newport State Airport that he says could contribute significantly to economic development on Aquidneck Island.

The 41-year-old de Ramel, who lost Democratic primaries for secretary of state by slim margins in 2006 and 2014, has already been the catalyst behind construction of 10 light plane hangars that now stand at the airport, also known as the Colonel Robert F. Wood Airpark.

“I have 30 more people who would like hangar space here,” said de Ramel, a licensed private pilot since he was 17. His company, Newport Hangars LLC, reportedly spent $1 million in 2011 erecting the existing hangar building and access roadways.

Guillaume de Ramel at work on a new airplane, a Carbon Cub. (Photo by Jen Carter) Guillaume de Ramel at work on a new airplane, a Carbon Cub. (Photo by Jen Carter) De Ramel believes that his hanger project at Newport State Airport can be a boon to the operation. “Leaving one of these airplanes out in the open, especially with the ice and snow of winter, is destructive to the planes,” he said. “They are not like cars. They need to be stored inside.”

That is especially true, he said, for the “high end” customers whose planes take shelter at the Middletown airport. Many of them, he said, are well-to-do New York business leaders who have summer homes on Aquidneck Island.

“The hangers are crucial for these commuters,” de Ramel said. Today, he said, it is out-of-town business “decision makers” with local summer homes who long for hangar space in Middletown to enable an easy commute to the island. Their quality of life is determined by access and availability of hanger space,” he said. “It’s a comfort to them to be able to get to their planes quickly.”

And, he maintained, “There’s no doubt this airport plays a big part in the island’s economy.” Elaborating, de Ramel said, “The people using these spaces have the ability to bring millions of dollars’ worth of development and philanthropic activity to Aquidneck Island.”

Besides having built the first 10 hangar spaces at the airport, the son of Elizabeth Prince and the late Regis de Ramel is also busy building his own Carbon Cub light plane from scratch. He also flies a Cirrus X22T that features a parachute system that can be deployed in an emergency. That plane and the plane under construction now occupy two of the existing 10 hangars.

“I love flying,” de Ramel said. He said building planes such as the Carbon Cub “can be frustrating,” especially the tangled nest of wires that sits behind the plane’s instrument panel. “But it makes you a better pilot. Some people say that building one of these is like eating an elephant one bite at a time.”

De Ramel said his interest in aviation “is just in my blood.”

Indeed, his great uncle was Norman Prince, a founder of the vaunted World War I Lafayette Escadrille, for which he was involved in 122 aerial combat engagements against German foes. Unfortunately for Prince, he died of injuries suffered when his plane was involved in an accident while returning from a bombing raid on the Mauser rifle works in Oberdorf, Germany, in 1916. Prince’s remains were buried in a tomb at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The rich and famous, so the story goes, have long had an interest in the 223 Middletown acres that now comprise the airport, which opened in 1947 and is located between West Main and East Main Roads. And, according to aviation websites, the airport is home to 31 planes, including 27 single engine aircraft, two multi-engine planes, and two helicopters. The airport sees about 50 flights daily, according to the websites.

Matt Cunningham, airport manager, could not be reached for comment.

According to de Ramel, former Bellevue Avenue residents such as William K. Vanderbilt enjoyed “racing their cars”—at the turn of the 20th century, 12 miles an hour was considered speeding, de Ramel said—along Ocean Drive.

But Newport police apparently thought otherwise, and the “boys”—John Jacob Astor included— brought their auto racing inclinations to what was then Aquidneck Park, a horse racing oval located where Middletown runways now sit.

De Ramel said he is currently in discussion with the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) to hopefully obtain financial terms to make hangar expansion possible. Under a lease agreement that de Ramel now has with RIAC, that agency becomes owner of the existing hangars after 30 years.

De Ramel believes strongly in his hangar expansion plan and his belief that it can boost the island’s economy.

“If you don’t have it, but Nantucket does, they’re going to go to Nantucket,” de Ramel said.

Return to top