The numbers tell part of the story.
On Friday the U.S. Customs and Border Protections, or CBP, gave the news media a glimpse of the expanded facilities at Green Airport. It’s an austere environment more like a cattle chute than the welcome to Rhode Island accompanied by the voice of Mayor Scott Avedisian as arrivals head to the baggage area from other parts of the terminal. Cordoned lanes guide people to one of two types of machines where they can expedite clearance and to manned stations where CBP personnel ask questions and stamp passports.
Reporters expecting to get a behind-the-curtain tour of the facility were disappointed. Details on the operations such as the number of agents assigned to Green were not forthcoming nor were specifics on the “about ten” people who were sent back to their country of origin since Norwegian Airlines started operating flights to Ireland, Scotland and Norway in June. That’s understandable. Too many details could compromise security.
But one number emerged – 2,100. That is the weekly number of arrivals passing through the facility. As international flights from Cape Verde and the Azores have been arriving at Green for some time, the number of “new” arrivals is actually somewhat less.
What Rhode Island is starting to see is the effect of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation’s efforts to maximize the economic impact of Green Airport. In 2005, when passenger traffic reached its apex at 5.7 million for the year, there were 4,000 T.F. Green badge holders. These are employees and vendors with various levels of clearance whose jobs were related to the airport. As of 2016, Green recorded 3.6 million passengers and had 2,500 badge holders.
Those are directly measurable jobs.
RIAC president and CEO Iftikhar Ahmad has made Rhode Island jobs a priority.
Ahmad points out that the number of airport operations declined from 140,000 in 2005 to 70,000 last year. He estimates Green lost 40 percent of its business.
Even at this reduced level, a 2015 study indicates Green had a $2.6 billion economic impact on the state. A single passenger translates into a $631 impact on the local economy and, according to a recent report in Discover New England, a foreign visitor can expect to spend $977 while here, said Ahmad.
Over the next couple of months, as Frontier Airlines and Allegiant commence domestic flights from Green, Green will have gone from 7 to 11 airlines and from 17 to 33 nonstop destinations since this time last year. Ahmad said that represents an increase of 500,000 seats in and out of Green annually.
Rhode Island’s connections to the rest of the world have been vastly improved. Now it is up to us to take advantage of those opportunities.
It is refreshing that Ahmad looks at airport growth as more than just the numbers. At stake is the quality of life, which includes jobs, and as he pointed out in a recent interview, “this is like a balancing game.”