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T.F. Green Airport expansion: Too late?
Lookout
John Hazen-White Jr.

Work is finally about to begin on the long-contested T.F. Green runway expansion and other airport improvements after years of struggles between the host City of Warwick and the RI Airport Corporation (RIAC) and the FAA, but changes happening in the domestic airline market may cancel the chance for West Coast flights and improved passenger traffic at the state airport.

A longer runway for Green came with the expectation that airlines would then be able to use Green to reach California destinations, in effect providing coast-to-coast service. Providing the West Cost option was also seen as a way of boosting passenger traffic numbers at Green, which has experienced less travelers passing through the Bruce Sundlun Terminal in recent years. It would also bring Green’s runway up to par with the runway expansion at Manchester NH’s airport which is already in operation and help Green compete with its co-competitor against Boston’s Logan Airport.

But even with a longer runway in place, Manchester’s passenger numbers have been declining just like Green’s, so the question is why? The fly in the ointment for both airports is the increasing consolidation that’s taking place in the airline industry, especially with the merger of US Airways and American, now under way. With consolidation comes a greater reliance on regional hubs and less flights offered from smaller “spoke” airports that feed the hubs, like Green and Manchester.

It might seem counter-intuitive to force more travelers to endure the hassles of using Logan but it makes better economic sense to do so from the airlines’ standpoint, and that’s the bottom line: more flights on bigger jets from the hub airports and less flights on smaller planes from the spoke airports.

So while we are late to the game in terms of having a longer runway – and the runway expansion is not expected to be completed until 2017 – it may not matter much in the way state and aviation officials hoped it would because merged, mega-airlines have changed their strategy in how they employ their flights and which airports they now rely more on. We can therefore expect less options from Green, on smaller planes full to the ceiling. The “European Connection” to Green, however, which would involve attracting an Easyjet or Ryanair to fly from points in Great Britain or Ireland direct to Green is still a tantalizing possibility that state officials should quietly but persistently pursue.


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