When the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) drafted a 20-year master plan for Green Airport in 2019, it was thought expansion of air cargo facilities to the south of the terminal in what is now …
When the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) drafted a 20-year master plan for Green Airport in 2019, it was thought expansion of air cargo facilities to the south of the terminal in what is now a long term parking lot was years away.
Then the pandemic hit and with it an explosion in online shopping.
In 2019, a total of 27.8 million pounds of cargo flowed in and out of Green. By 2020, that climbed to 31.2 million pounds and last year it hit 37.4 million pounds. Still proportionally to the three other major New England airports, Boston, Manchester and Bradley, Green’s share of the region’s total air cargo amounted to 2.1 percent. Boston was the dominant player in 2020 with 58.4 percent of the total.
RIAC is looking for a bigger share of the air cargo business as it will create more jobs and enhance airport revenues that took a dive with the pandemic and loss of flights and passengers. The impact was felt across the board from parking revenues to concessions and landing fees.
Air cargo is the new opportunity although passenger traffic, especially leisure flying has rebounded faster than when forecast as Covid-related restrictions were lifted.
To provide the two carriers serving the airport – UPS and FedEx – and to attract additional carriers, RIAC acted to update and expand facilities. Mayor Frank Picozzi and Councilman Tim Howe, whose ward includes the airport, have been briefed on the plan and, so far, have expressed concerns over ground traffic and potential impact to residents on Strawberry Field Road West, but embrace the economic benefits of more robust air cargo.
The most vocal critic, however, is Richard Langseth who has closely followed airport developments for years. He regularly attends RIAC board meetings, filed requests for information and authored a letter published in the July 7 Warwick Beacon. Langseth hasn’t questioned the need for improved cargo facilities that are largely housed in Hangar 2, a 36,000 square foot building erected in 1942 and used by FedEx. In order to gain additional space, FedEx has an estimated 18,000 square feet in tractor trailer trucks it uses for storage as well as areas for the sorting of goods that are then loaded on aircraft according to Yil Surehan, RIAC vice president of property & business development .
The truck trailers are used for sorting and packing areas regardless of snow, rain or blazing heat, said Surehan. UPS, on the other hand, pre-packs units at its Jefferson Boulevard center that are then delivered to the airport to be packed in the bellies of 757 and the wider 767. The process is reversed with incoming cargo.
Langseth likened the proposed air cargo facilities south of the terminal to the classic Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams and that RIAC officials are looking to make Warwick the air freight hub of New England. He accused RIAC of downplaying their intentions claiming “no new planes” to avoid an Environmental Impact Statement that involves public input and studies that could significantly extend the process and conceivably cause revisions and a reduced plan.
In a response also published in the July 7 Beacon, John J. Goodman, RIAC assistant vice president of media and public relations, accused Langseth of spreading misinformation. He said Langseth’s characterization of the cargo facilities as a “cargo hub” is out of line. He also panned speculation that the improvements are linked to the 500,000 square foot warehouse being built off Commerce Drive by NorthPoint Development. NorthPoint has not identified prospective tenants for the warehouse that it virtually across the street from the airport.
Currently between the two carriers there are five arrivals and departures daily.
Surehan said there would be seven arrival and departures with completion of Phase 1 of the new facilities.
The hangar and ramps used for cargo operations are leased to Atlantic Aviation that in turn leases to FedEx and UPS. Surehan said RIAC is working on lease agreements with UPS and FedEx for the new cargo facilities with a projected completion of the first of two phases in the second quarter of 2025. A second building would go up with the second phase for a combined total of 131,000 square feet.
The facilities would be built and leased by RIAC, as opposed to having RIAC lease the land and a third party building and leasing the buildings. Surehan noted that Rhode Island law would prohibit a third party from leasing RIAC land for more than 30 years, which serves as a deterrent to investors.
80-year old hangar to go
The plan calls for the demolition of the 1942 hangar and the relocation of all air cargo operations to south of the terminal. That would open up space along Airport Road that would be go to a FBO, fixed base operator and to consolidate non passenger airport activities, including general aviation away from the terminal.
Impact of the air cargo operations on local traffic was of major concern to City Planning and the mayor. They were adamant that there not be an egress or entrance to the development from Main Avenue as that would add traffic to an already constricted road and roads feeding into it. The plan calls for access and egress from a road running along the inside boundary of the site to the Airport Connector.
What of the lost long-term parking by construction of the cargo pad and facilities?
Surehan points out that RIAC owns a vacant lot next to Post Road, and could build another parking garage if needed. However, he notes with the advent of Uber and Lyft parking demand has softened and could go away permanently.
As for the impact to the residential community abutting Strawberry Field Road West, Surehan said the proposal calls for a “noise and visual buffer” consisting of a berm, topped by a wall and then with landscaping and plantings facing the neighborhood. He said flight operations would be during the day.
Cost of the first phase of the facility was projected at $100 million prior to the pandemic but, with inflation, Surehan puts the increase at 30 to 40 percent; it’s basically an unknown at this time.
That doesn’t appear to have slowed things down.
Jessica Damicis, PE, RIAC director of engineering said the first of public hearings to outline the “conceptual plan” would be held later this summer or early fall. More detailed plans would follow. She said an environmental assessment – not the more in-depth environmental impact statement Langseth talks about – would provide projected noise impacts and offer mitigating measures.
According to data provided by RIAC, there were 1,869 air cargo aircraft arrivals at Green in 2021 -- an average of 5.1 per day. With completion of Phase 1 of the south cargo facility, that is projected to increase to 2,496 in 2025 or 6.8 a day.
Might this development alter or even preclude Breeze Airways’ consideration of Green as an operations center? An operations center would mean Breeze aircraft – talk is of four planes – would be stationed here with crews making Warwick their base of operations.
Goodman said the relocation of air cargo and development of facilities wouldn’t affect Breeze. He noted that the much heralded non-stop Breeze service to LAX, which had been planned for this June, is now scheduled for February 2023. He pointed out that the service to have stated in June was seasonal, but now it appears with a February start it will be year round.
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Thursday, July 21, 2022 Report this