Green on runway to being 'fastest growing airport'
Green Airport could become the fastest growing airport in the country…again.
That was the prediction of Iftikar Ahmad, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation as he talked with reporters yesterday following a celebration of the completion of extended Runway 5 to give Green an 8,700-foot runway. The longer runway, the topic of often-contentious debate and a lawsuit by the city over the past 20 years, opened for operations on Aug. 15, although it will not be available for instrument flight use until Dec. 7.
Ahmad said that the 16 flights added in the last six months, now giving Green 33 direct flight destinations, increases the number of total seats available by 25 percent. Assuming these seats are filled, the growth in passenger traffic well exceeds the 2 percent growth forecast by the Federal Aviation Administration and, according to Ahmad, would make Green the fastest growing airport in the nation. The airport served 3.6 million passengers last year.
Rapid growth is no stranger to Green although, since 2005, traffic has been on a decline from a high of 5.7 million passengers. Soon after the Bruce Sundlun Terminal was completed in 1996, Southwest Airlines brought its discount fares to Rhode Island and launched growth that was measured in double-digit percentages month after month. At the time, Green was considered the fastest growing airport in the country.
Ahmad looks to be flowing a similar strategy to return Green to its glory days while generating hundreds of jobs and boosting the Rhode Island economy. He has brought low-cost-fare airlines to the airport with Norwegian Airlines, Frontier and Allegiant.
With Green’s longer runway he has also opened new destinations, giving the airport nonstop service as far west as Denver and as far east as Norway, Jonathan Savage, chair of the RIAC board noted in comments during yesterday’s celebration.
Savage also observed that, with Norwegian’s service to Ireland, Green has more direct flights to Irish cities than any other airport in the country.
Savage commended Ahmad’s ability to see opportunity and state officials to act quickly to bring Norwegian to Rhode Island. And Savage said RIAC is working on “very, very exciting matters now” that promise more announcements in the future.
But while the occasion focused on recent developments including the extended runway, speakers didn’t lose sight of what it took to get here.
Senator Jack Reed was singled out for his diligence in the pursuit of Federal Aviation Administration funding for the $250 million improvement program that, as part of the runway extension, included the relocation of the Winslow Park playing fields, safety area improvements to Runway 16-35, demolition of Hangar 1, home acquisitions, residential sound insulation and construction of a system used to recover glycol used for de-icing.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said he agrees with Reed that airports are integral to the economy and pointed out that the agency provided $50 million to extend the runway and another $41 million for the runway safety area improvements.
Reed said the FAA picking up 60 percent of costs related to the runway was “the difference between doing this runway and not doing it.”
Reed also promised Huerta that he could expect a call.
“There’s much to do at the airport, I’m sure we’ll be back.”
Governor Gina Raimondo echoed the upbeat tone of the ceremony saying, “we’re on a roll and I say we’re just getting started. It’s corny, but I’d say we’re taking off.”
Riamondo said she wants to see continued expansion of Green.
Those have not always been welcome words in Warwick.
“It’s hard to believe we’re here,” said Mayor Scott Avedisian. Without getting into the details he spoke of how the city and RIAC eventually found common ground with a memorandum of understanding that defined what was expected of each of the parties and was eventually approved by the City Council. With the agreement, the Council dropped its action to legally contest FAA approval of the expansion program. Avedisian credited Dr. Kathleen Hittner, former chair of the RIAC board with bringing people together and getting them to a point where they could find agreement.
“Good tings are worth waiting for,” said Senate President Dominick Ruggiero. He said with the longer runway Green will be able to accommodate larger planes and the planes of the future. He applauded the people of Warwick for hosting the airport, saying that the development has “worked out to the best interests of the citizens of Rhode Island.”
That’s not exactly the way City Council President Joseph Solomon saw it. In comments following the event, he said he would like to see the city gain additional compensation “for the erosion of our tax base [homes and businesses acquired for airport expansion] and for services [provided by the city to the airport].”
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse touted the collaboration enabling the project and “making this a positive relationship. It’s a great day and we even have the Patriots plane behind us.”
And, indeed, the Patriots plane parked across the runway from the gathering was an attraction. People got out their cell phones to snap pictures.
“Welcome to the official airport of the Patriots,” Congressman David Cicillini said in opening his remarks. He called Reed “the quarterback of the team” that completed the improvement program.
Congressman Jim Langevin called Green a “new gateway for Rhode Islanders” and said the airport is “opening a new chapter in our state.”
But he likewise looked back to the path that brought the airport here.
“Whatever differences we had were not permanent obstacles,” he said.