Residents, and those interested in the future of Green Airport, will get to ask airport officials and their consultants about plans for a $100 million air cargo facility south of the terminal backing …
Residents, and those interested in the future of Green Airport, will get to ask airport officials and their consultants about plans for a $100 million air cargo facility south of the terminal backing up to Strawberry Field Road West on April 20 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Sawtooth annex building in Apponaug.
Unlike prior meetings on airport projects, such as those over the extension of the Runway 5-29 that resulted in the realignment of Main Avenue, relocation of Winslow Park and the acquisition of single family homes to extend the runway, it is unclear this week whether there would be an opening overview of the project or the opportunity for questions from the floor. Rather, as was done at an initial overview of the project in January, there are likely to be stations with different aspects of the plan. Planners and consultants will be present to answer questions. John J. Goodman, Rhode Island Airport Corporation’s assistant vice president of media and public relations, said Tuesday that personnel would be present to publicly answer questions for those attending.
Technically, the meeting is a review of the Draft Environmental Assessment of the air cargo relocation project. Practically, from a reading of the document prepared by AECOM, this is a meeting to justify why this is the best place to relocate air cargo operations that are cramped on the north side of the airport.
AECOM reached this conclusion after reviewing a myriad of factors that included building bigger where currently located – deemed impractical because of space and operational constraints – and relocating air cargo operations to Quonset.
“Quonset,” reads the draft review, “is a general aviation airport and is not certificated for scheduled airline operations. Even if the improvements could be made to bring the airport up to commercial service standards, the cost, schedule, and environmental impacts to do so would be far greater than the Proposed Action.”
The report also weighs noise, traffic and environmental impacts of the air cargo facility, concluding that with the proposed mitigation measures there would be a minimal effect.
That’s not the way Richard Langseth, who closely follows airport developments and has gathered a following on Facebook, sees it. Langseth’s assertions over increases in air and ground traffic, as well as noise and air pollution have been refuted by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and in some cases called untrue.
In his most recent letter to the editor, which is published in today’s Beacon, Langseth paints a picture of confusion as FedEx and UPS semis are mixing with arriving passengers and motorists in an effort to reach Post Road or Jefferson Boulevard. While the plan suggests the Airport Connector as the link to Route 95, there is no alternative to looping in front of the terminal to access local roads, Langseth said after looking at the report.
How much cargo is processed through Green Airport?
Green Airport is currently served by two air cargo carriers—FedEx and UPS. FedEx is one of the world’s largest airlines in terms of fleet size and freight tons flown, and the world’s largest express transportation company according to the report. UPS Airlines is also a major cargo airline and the second largest cargo airline worldwide in terms of freight volume flown. Both carriers use Green as a regional location to connect and transfer packages and freight between their respective aircraft and trucks on the ground. Combined, they typically operate five flights per day on average and transfer nearly 40 million pounds of cargo through the Airport annually. Currently, FedEx operates one all-cargo flight per day using a B757 freighter, and “feeder” flights using smaller, turboprop airplanes. UPS operates two to three all-cargo flights per day also using a B757 freighter but has no connecting/feeder flights.
What does the current setup look like?
The existing facilities consist of a cargo building, aircraft parking apron, truck staging area and employee parking. The cargo building is a 50,000 square foot aircraft maintenance hangar erected in 1942, a portion of which has been repurposed for cargo airline operations and is occupied by both carriers. To gain additional workspace, FedEx has an estimated 18,000 square feet of tractor trailer trucks that it uses for storage and the sorting of goods that are then loaded on to the aircraft. Due to a lack of cargo warehouse space, UPS is limited to transferring pre-packed containers to and from its Jefferson Boulevard sorting/distribution center. Those containers are on/off loaded on the aircraft apron, bypassing the cargo building.
All cargo aircraft are parked on the Northeast Apron across an active taxi lane from the cargo building.
There is dedicated space for one FedEx freighter and three turboprop feeder aircraft, and for two UPS freighters. FedEx cargo tractor trailers park adjacent to the aircraft, or at the loading docks along the east side the cargo building. UPS cargo tractor trailers park adjacent to company aircraft on the apron. Cargo airline employees park their vehicles outside the airport security fence along the north side of the cargo building.
“The existing cargo function can be characterized as an inadequate, makeshift cargo operation that uses an antiquated aircraft hangar for a cargo building and a remote apron for aircraft parking,” reads the report.
What is planned with the proposed facility?
“The Proposed Action would meet the need for modern cargo facilities that satisfy current design standards for safe and efficient cargo operations at PVD.
To meet the demand for FedEx and UPS cargo operations, the primary objectives are:
▪ Provide a site exclusively for air cargo airline operations that can accommodate one or two cargo buildings with up to 140,000 square feet of multi-use space, and apron space for six wide-body freighter aircraft and sufficient truck and employee parking for both carriers
▪ Provide airfield access for cargo aircraft to taxi between cargo facilities and runways that avoid general aviation areas
▪ Provide a site with roadway access to enable transfer of cargo via truck with a convenient route to and from off-airport cargo handling facilities and other major surface transportation corridors
▪ Provide a site (layout) that complies with applicable FAA standards for airport design.”
What would be different than from today’s operations?
Under the proposed action, FedEx flight operations would increase, and the fleet mix would change. Based on the improved service scenario, the existing B757-200 freighters would be replaced by B767-300 freighters. Both are twin-engine jets. The main difference is the former is a large narrow-body and the latter is a medium wide-body. Compared to the B757-200F, the B767-300F fuselage is longer, the wingspan is wider, and the engines can produce more thrust, which allows the B767-300F to carry 60% more cargo payload. In addition, scheduled cargo aircraft operations would increase by two arrivals and two departures per day on average, beginning approximately one hour earlier than the current schedule to allow additional time to transfer cargo from the aircraft to the trucks for the trip north to Boston. FedEx truck traffic operations would increase from 36 to 69 trucks per day, with an estimated 70% to 80% of the trucks destined for Boston markets. UPS flight operations are not expected to change immediately or dramatically at the new location, the report says. If built, the facility, there is allowance for UPS to increase cargo volume by also changing aircraft from the 757-200F to the larger B767-300F, and to increase from two to three arrivals per day, on average. As a result of the added air cargo volume, UPS truck operations would increase from four to eight trucks per day.
For planning and evaluation purposes, it is anticipated that UPS would continue to transfer pre-packed containers to and from its Jefferson Boulevard center for the foreseeable future.
Employee and truck traffic is expected to increase based on increased shipping capacity as well as meeting latent shipping demands. Under the Proposed Action, an estimated 77 tractor-trailers are estimated to use the new facility per day: a net increase of 37 tractor-trailers over the existing (No Build) condition. To keep deliveries and downstream shipping operations on schedule, shipping operations typically take place outside of typical morning and evening commuting hours to avoid delays during hours of heavy traffic. According to the TIA, the proposed action has the potential to generate 40 AM Peak hour trips and 34 PM Peak hour trips (employee and truck traffic) with 7 trucks in the AM Peak hour and 3 trucks in the PM Peak hour.
Plans to protect the neighborhood.
The project includes construction of a new noise barrier to replace the existing barrier wall that would be removed. The new barrier system consists of a landscaped earthen berm supporting a pre-cast concrete wall, with trees planted to provide for visual screening and noise reduction for residences along Palace Avenue and Strawberry Field Road. The proposed barrier system would be lengthened and moved closer to the residential area, but the structure would remain on airport property. As the existing barrier wall is removed, material excavated from the existing earthen berm would be reused to construct the new earthen berm, according to the report.
The report reads, “No adverse environmental impacts are identified with the Proposed Action, other than noise, and the proposed action would not cause or contribute to a significant increase in noise levels at the airport. Further, no environmental resource category has been identified as potentially vulnerable to the effects of ongoing development at or near the airport. Because no potentially significant adverse effects have been linked to the proposed action in this EA (environmental assessment) , it is unlikely that the incremental impact of the proposed project would cause or contribute to a significant adverse impact on the environment when added to any past, ongoing, or future projects or actions at the airport.”
Impact on neighboring residents
The EA finds the new facilities would expand the airport’s existing DNL 65 dB contour to include any additional homes off airport property. (Heretofore houses that fall within this contour have been acquired by RIAC). The EA reads, “While not exceeding DNL 65 dB, these homes (the neighborhood south of the facility) may be exposed to higher noise level events during facility operation hours due to cargo aircraft operating on the ramp and trucking activity at the proposed facility. An analysis of maximum level noise levels (Lmax) from the facility resulted in a range of approximately DNL 52 dB58 to 67 dB from aircraft ground noise, cargo ground support equipment, and truck noise sources during peak operational periods. In order to reduce noise levels to the nearby residents from ground operations, an analysis of a proposed noise barrier was conducted.”
The analysis says, “The homes along Strawberry Field Road are closest to the proposed facility, and the 6-foot berm with a 9-foot wall on top of the berm would provide a substantial reduction—5 to 13 dB—in maximum level noise events to those homes.”
When would construction start and how will RIAC pay for it?
If approved this spring, ground-breaking and site preparation would begin soon thereafter, including installation of the noise barrier wall. Construction activities would continue through 2024 on the cargo building and the aircraft apron, with all project elements scheduled to be completed in 2025, thereby making 2026 the first full year of project operations.
RIAC plans to pay for the $100 million project using a combination of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grants, Passenger Facility Charges (PFC) and an airport revenue bond.
What the analysis doesn’t include.
The EA does not include an analysis of the air cargo business, how it has been affected by the pandemic here or at regional airports, including Manchester and Logan, nor does it look at the potential increased demand resulting from the six story, 3.8 million square foot Amazon distribution center nearing completion in Johnston or the 500,000 square foot warehouse on Commerce Drive off Airport Road recently completed by NorthPoint based in Kansas City.
The draft environmental assessment and conceptual plan for the project are available at https://www.flyri.com/riac/improvement/. A print copy is also available for review at the Warwick Public Library on Sandy Lane.
Public Comments regarding the draft environmental assessment will be accepted from March 31–May 1, 2023 via email at PVDSouthCargo@aecom.com, postal mail at “PVD South Cargo Facility Project, c/o AECOM, 1635 Market Street, Suite 1000, Philadelphia, PA 19103” or at the public meeting on April 20, 2023.