“Destination” is frequently used to describe all the venues accessible from Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport. There are 32 of them and more are likely to be added in the …
“Destination” is frequently used to describe all the venues accessible from Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport. There are 32 of them and more are likely to be added in the months to come.
But as of late Gov. Dan McKee has been using the word to describe Rhode Island as a destination for those living out of state. A campaign built about a giant stuffie that has appeared in the Detroit Airport, and will be soon showing up in Atlanta, Baltimore, and Los Angeles through the end of 2023, is aimed at getting travelers to take notice of tiny Rhode Island and look beyond the shell to all the state has to offer.
The campaign and the giant fiberglass stuffies has been labeled “weird.” It is the butt of cartoons and jokes. ProJo columnist Mark Patinkin devoted a column to the clammy campaign concluding it’s just what is needed for people to remember Rhode Island and discover what kind of “stuff “ the state has to offer from rich history to events such as the Newport Jazz Festival.
For it to work those who could become the state’s greatest ambassadors must have a good first impression.
Few are more acutely aware of that than Iftihar Ahmad, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation. He’s faced with a terminal that is 30 years old, where the carpet is bubbling, concessions have gone empty and the centerpiece — the Federal Tavern with its lavish mahogany paneling — is visible but shuttered. Outside the terminal well cared for seasonal plantings provide relief to parking lots and concrete platforms for buses and forms of local transportation. Beyond that, it‘s raggedy. The Airport Connector, which is in the midst of improvements, is a maze of orange construction barrels and restricted lanes. Post Road, which was scheduled for repaving two years ago, is far from a welcome mat.
One thing the terminal has going for it are restrooms to match those of a five-star hotel with marble counters and shiny fixtures that cost $10 million. Another $8 million was spent for the processing of international flights. Currently there are flights to the Dominican Republic.
Ahmad chose the Mary Brennan Room at the Bruce Sundlun Terminal last Wednesday to disclose a projected $311 million in airport improvements over the next three years aimed at altering that first impression and making Rhode Island a portal to New England for passengers and cargo, making it a destination.
Traditionally, airport announcements, especially the introduction of new airlines and service are a big production with Mary Brennan room packed with representatives from the travel and tourism industries and a phalanx of reporters and TV crews facing a seated lineup of local and state officials in front of a panel displaying the name of the latest destination and airline logo.
This was different.
Four of us sat at the end of the expansive boardroom table, Ahmad, Britany Morgan, chief legal counsel and chief of staff and John Goodman, assistant vice president of media and public relations. Ahmad was armed with a thick sheath of papers, including renderings of terminal improvements and a cost and time schedule of the projects.
But first Ahmad offered a diagnosis of current operations.
“Business is doing good,” he declared. His optimism is not surprising. Even in the depths of the pandemic despair, Ahmad sought to put Green in a bright light. He said passenger traffic for FY 23 was up 14.7 percent from the prior year and that August passenger totals were 93 percent of those for pre-pandemic August 2019.
Breeze operation center
“Things are normalizing,” he said. He is also buoyed that Green passenger traffic is trending with Boston’s Logan and Hartford’s Bradley as compared to other regional airports that are lagging. He is especially excited by Breeze Airways and its selection of Green as an operations center. When announced in March of this year, Breeze said it was committed to stationing eight aircraft here, creating 250 new jobs and providing non stop flights to 20 destinations within five years.. He shared photographs of build out spaces for Breeze and he reported three aircraft are presently stationed at Green.
He focused on the work being done by the Department of Transportation including the Airport Connector and scheduled repaving of Post Road amounting to $12 million that will all add up to that first impression. He is supportive of the stuffie campaign and would like to see the state increase funding to market the state. He sees it as a means “to fill those (airline) seats” which he says will have a spiral effect of carriers increasing service, introducing greater competition and reducing fares to the benefit of Rhode Island.
He also sees RIAC as financially well positioned. He said RIAC’s liquidity has grown from $30 million in 2017 to $103 million. He pointed to two upgrades in airport bond ratings. He said Green’s CPE (Cost Per Enplanement) that airlines use as a metric in assessing the cost of operating from an airport is $9 as compared to $39 at Logan.
As to a breakdown of how $311 million would be spent over the next three fiscal years of which $89.6 million would go to general aviation, Ahmad provided the following.
Breakdown of projects
Terminal modernizations of $31.5 million, of which $24.6 million would be covered by federal FAA funding, with the balance coming from passenger facility charges and local sources. Breakdowns are as follows:
This total $67.7 million of which $53.3 million would be federally funded.
Airside improvements total $141.3 million of which $68.8 would be federally funded. Projects include:
Categorized under other at a total of $13.5 million of which $12.2 million would be paid with federal dollars is the following:
General aviation improvements at other state airports totaling $89.6 million of which $38 million would be paid with federal dollars:
Look for these changes
What Green passengers can look for in the near future is a new role for the Federal Tavern. The plan is for the Existing Escape Lounge by CAVU located on the first level, which Ahmad said is averaging 100 people a day and offering to members all they can eat and drink for $40 a place to wait for a flight, do business or catch some rest would move to the Federal Tavern with more than twice the space. Escape is projected to invest $4 million in renovations with the design being completed in three to five months.
Transitions outside the terminal will be instantly visible with the planting of 1,086 mums and more than 230 ornamental cabbage and kale. Fifteen planters will get an array mums, cabbage kale and Karl Foerster grasses.
Changes are also coming to concourse concessions. Napatree Marketplace is in the process of construction and Providence Provisions is open as is Bellevue Essentials. Federal Hill Italian Eatery and Narragansett are slated to open in the second quarter of 2024 and Burger King and Whalers in the third quarter. Spring House would open in the first quarter of 2025 and Dunkin would open a food court in the second quarter of 2025 according to the schedule.