The bill that proposes to change the name of T.F. Green Airport to Rhode Island International Airport had liftoff Tuesday afternoon in the State House, after the House Committee on Corporations voted 7-2, with one abstention, to move the bill to the House floor for a vote on Wednesday.
As of press time Wednesday the bill was expected to pass in the House and then be sent to the Senate for consent. At that point Governor Gina Raimondo would have to sign the bill before it becomes law.
The Rhode Island Airport Corporation, the quasi-public agency that controls Rhode Island’s airports, has been pushing for the name change since the winter. RIAC claims that the name T.F. Green provides a poor geographic indicator for fliers from other parts of the country, making it difficult to market the airport as a destination for travelers and new airlines.
Before the vote State Rep. Charlene Lima, Democrat from Cranston, defended the current airport title, which was named after Theodore Francis Green, a former U.S. Senator and governor of Rhode Island.
“There’s been a lot of misrepresentation on this bill,” said Lima. “[T.F. Green] had the courage to be a progressive when many others were not. He deserves the right to have his name on the airport.”
Lima said she had no problem with adding Rhode Island International to the airport name, but insisted that the T.F. Green portion of the name remain.
“When I asked [Rhode Island Airport Corporation] why they wanted to change the name, I was told that the pilots could not find the airport,” said Lima. “Oh really? I know they lose our luggage, I know they lose our kids sometimes, but if pilots can’t find the airport we’ve got a major problem here. It’s a bunch of malarkey.”
Lima went on to question the decision of both the RIAC board and president, Iftikhar Ahmad.
“I don’t think they know what they’re doing,” said Lima. “I’m going to put in a study to look at this RIAC airport.”
T.F. Green II, the great nephew of the airport’s namesake, was also at the hearing.
In a discussion with the Beacon afterwards, Green said, “In my previous testimony I explained why his name is so important to the state of Rhode Island. He made a difference here.”
Green also endorsed the addition of Rhode Island International to the current name, T.F. Green Airport.
“I was told unofficially that that [change] would be too difficult to market,” said Green. “I’ll watch with interest.”
House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, Democratic representative from Warwick, said, “the driving force behind the bill is to help T.F. Green Airport. Even though the name is being changed, his legacy will not be forgotten. They’re going to rename the Interlink system the Theodore Francis Green Interlink.”
Shekarchi showed the Beacon a letter from the Rhode Island Hospitality Association in favor of the bill.
“On behalf of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, I am writing to express our organization’s unequivocal support for the proposed legislation that would change the name of T.F Green Airport to the Rhode Island International Airport,” wrote Dale J. Venturini, president of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. “The continued success of our airport is absolutely crucial to the future of Rhode Island. We believe that, as a state, we should do everything in our power to help the airport compete with other regional options.”
Shekarchi is a sponsor of the bill, and will be a “yes” vote when it comes to the floor.
The only other “no” vote in committee was from State Rep. Anthony Giarrusso, Republican from East and West Greenwich.
“I’m not a revisionist historian,” said Giarrusso. “If he was so good that his name warranted being on the airport, why should it change?”
Giarrusso claimed that a compromise could have been reached between RIAC and defenders of the T.F. Green name that would have “appeased everyone.” He thought adding Rhode Island International to the name would have been best, making the new airport name Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport.
Bill Fischer, RIAC spokesman, said that the airport’s position had not changed, and that they were just trying to do what’s best for the airport and Rhode Island.
“We’re doing everything we can to position the airport to better serve Rhode Island,” said Fischer. “The airlines tell us this will increase travel, and that’s the goal here.”
Fischer pointed out the lack of current name recognition for the airport, and the desire from a number of different airlines that the name be changed.
Both Allegiant Airlines and Norwegian Air wrote letters favoring the name change to the Committee on Corporations.
Allegiant Airlines wrote, “As a relatively new airline to the Rhode Island market, I can’t underscore enough how critical it is to us for an airport name to be immediately recognizable with the state and region it serves. This is an invaluable tool to us when marketing the airport and destination to our customers, particularly those from other regions of the country as well as from our international markets.
“We further note that this is a growing trend in the industry. Most recently, Stewart International Airport in New York changed its name to the New York International Airport. Like T.F Green, this is reflective of the changing complexion of that airport, and the need to be more competitive with nearby airports in the air service industry.”
Fischer emphasized the importance of these letters from the airlines, saying, “it’s rare for airlines to weigh in on local issues.”
If the name change passes this legislative session, the airport would cover the costs for new signs on highways and other expenses associated with the name switch.
But the opposition is not done yet. A number of legislators say they are going to make arguments for and against the change on the House floor Wednesday night.
“It’s not over until the fat lady sings,” said Lima.