Yesterday marked an end and a beginning for Green Airport.
A lineup of city, state and federal officials who gathered under a tent in the middle of the airport’s crosswind runway yesterday morning talked about the events leading up to the ongoing $250 million airport expansion program, which was often contentious, and how those improvements will serve as the foundation for further growth.
While there have been a couple of airport ceremonies this summer – the most recent being last week’s announcement that Condor Airlines will commence flights to Frankfurt, Germany, next June – this gathering was staged to bring attention to the overall program.
But what Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) is doing hasn’t exactly gone unnoticed.
The demolition of Hangar 1 alongside Airport Road so as to clear the safety zone for Runway 16-34 caught the attention of the news media last year. And in successive months, work has proceeded on the clearing of airport land on the northeast side of the airfield for the relocation of the Winslow Park playing fields, which will enable the relocation of Main Avenue and the extension of Runway 5-23 to 8,700 feet and the installation of EMAS (engineered material arresting system) on the shorter runway.
Based on yesterday’s program, all the construction would seem to be going according to plan, and everybody is happy.
It hasn’t always been that way, as Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian told the wind-blown audience seated on the tarmac as commercial flights arrived and took off in the distance.
“I’m not sure I fully believed we would ever get to this day,” Avedisian said.
He went on to say he never would have thought 15 years ago that the city and the airport corporation would have reached a consensus.
He credited Dr. Kathleen Hittner, former chair of the RIAC Board, for bringing the parties back to the table and continuing to talk when it seemed they had reached an impasse. He also credited the RIAC staff and the city’s planning department. Opening the door to the project, the City Council dropped its move to legally challenge the expansion project in exchange for an agreement that, among other things, relocated the Winslow fields.
Avedisian identified EMAS as being a critical component to the eventual agreement. EMAS will enable RIAC to meet runway safety area requirements, designed to stop aircraft that have overshot the end of the runway, without using a full 1,000 feet. Without EMAS, the crosswind runway would have had to be shortened, or the safety area significantly extended into Buckeye Brook wetlands. On Runway 5-23, a longer safety area would have cut deeper into the residential area to the south.
With the expansion program in place and projected for completion by December 2017 when the longer runway is scheduled to open, officials focused on what the program will mean to the economy.
Avedisian touched on the Interlink and the 95 acres of City Centre that will enable city growth and development.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee said the development of airport infrastructure is already paying off. It was a theme picked up by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed.
He referred to the adage, “Build it and they will come,” noting that with the Condor announcement of flights to Germany, “we’ve begun to build it and they are already coming.”
Reed praised the efforts of Avedisian and the City Council, “who fought hard to get this project forward.”
He said the project as well as the system to capture de-icing fluid, which is being built without federal funding, “a great start.”
Both Michael Huerta, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and Anthony Foxx, U.S. secretary of transportation, spoke of the vision of Rhode Islanders. Huerta said the longer runway would “make a big difference” in safety while enabling longer non-stop flights and further growth of Green.
“This airport is getting what it needs,” Foxx said, adding that the developments would strengthen the airport and make it one of the most important in the region.
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse commended Chafee for his attention to transportation, education and conservation, saying they would be the legacy of his administration. And U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin congratulated RIAC President and CEO Kelly Fredericks for already having made a lasting impact at Green. U.S. Rep. David Cicilline said the program is an example of people working together and critical to the state’s economy and quality of life.
In closing, Fredericks said, “a lot more is going to be happening.”
For the moment, though, the projects are: the Runway 16-34 safety area improvements that include the use of EMAS at both ends of the runway at a cost of $40 million; the extension of Runway 5-23 requiring the relocation of Main Avenue and Winslow Park at $82 million; the sound insulation of about 150 homes; the acquisition of about 65 homes through the voluntary land acquisition program; and construction of the de-icer management system for the recovery of glycol used for de-icing aircraft.