The Green Airport in Modern Times

The Theodore Francis Green Airport at Hillsgrove has served the state in both peace and war.  After being used by the federal government as an Army Air  Force base, the facility was returned to the state in 1945. 

Continuous growth

Since that time, Hillsgrove has been the site of one of the more important airports along the East Coast.  It has continued to play a part in the overall defense plan, however, as since 1948 the airport has handled various aspects of the Air National Guard (152nd Fighter Bomber Squadron).
Over the last 58 years there have been a number of significant periods of expansion. One of the periods of greatest growth came in the 1950s.  Between 1953 and 1957 the number of passengers using the facility rose by 100,000, and in the following year, it increased again by 16.2 percent.  By 1957, the Green Airport was one of only 64 airports in the United States that serviced more than 100,000 passengers.
Much of the ability to enplane, or handle,  the increased numbers was made possible by voter approval of a bond issue of $1,500,000 in 1956.  This bond issue made it possible to build a new terminal at the State Airport, which was dedicated in 1961.

The Federal Aviation Act

During the late 1950s, the United States Congress passed the Federal Aviation Act.  This placed all  control of aircraft with civil authorities.  In the following year, the State of Rhode Island established a  Radar Air Traffic Control Center at the Naval Air Station at Quonset Point which controlled all instrument air traffic coming in and going out of Green Airport as well as the other air facilities in the state.

The Jet Age

By the 1960s the jet age had arrived and once again the Theodore F. Green Airport sought to expand to utilize the advanced technology and to compete with larger airports.  In a special election in 1965 the voters were asked for $2,000,000 for expansion of the state's air facilities.  Of this amount $1,400,000 was earmarked for extending the runways to accommodate the jet  aircraft.  By March 1966, the runways were able to provide the necessary space for landing the large jets that were becoming the modern vehicles for flying.

The Airport Connector

Of great significance was the completion of the "airport connector" between Interstate Route 95 and the airport.  This two mile road made it possible for rapid transportation from all areas of Rhode Island as the Hillsgrove Airport is located near the geographical center of Rhode Island.  The advertising for the event laid claim to the ability to reach Providence from Theodore Francis Green Airport via Rt. I 95 in fifteen minutes.
The next twenty years witnessed a phenomenal growth in the number of planes and passengers coming into Green.  In the year 1986, Green, one of the fastest growing airports showed a 45% increase from 1984.  Since that time, however, the growth rate has slowed to a 10.8% increase in 1988.  In January 1992, Governor Bruce Sundlun made public a proposal for a two tier airport terminal to be fully operational by 1995.  This terminal would have 15 gates and be designed to accommodate 3 million passengers annually.  The construction took over 42 months for completion and the cost has been estimated at $135 million.  The greatest percentage of the cost has been born by the airlines as a result of higher rent and landing fees.  The state's cost was close to $30 million, which was approved by the voters in a 1988 bond issue. 

Rave Reviews

The handsome, two tier airport terminal at T. F. Green Airport in Hillsgrove became operational in 1995.  Those who were used to the small airport were pleasantly surprised by the beauty and scope of the new terminal with its 15 gates and plans to accommodate more than 3 million passengers annually.

The anti-factor

All Warwick residents were not in favor of the recent airport expansion, however.  There was a great fear that there would be much more noise and traffic that would alter the quality of life in the neighborhood.  In June, 1999, former Governor Bruce Sundlun, who was very instrumental in getting the new facilities under way, stated that " designing this terminal, the state is endeavoring to address the concerns of the City of Warwick.  I would stress that the airport runways are not being expanded.  This is a terminal improvement project.  It is not an airport expansion project."   Recently, in response to complains about noise and fumes, a plan has been introduced that calls for expenditures in excess of $73 million and will take five years to implement.

Elaine Roberts, executive director of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) noted that there is “no perfect solution,” but that RIAC has approved “Part 150 Noise Compatibility Study,” and that they plan to acquire an estimated 200 homes in the area near the airport.  In addition, plans have been made for soundproofing many homes and schools and for constructing a 6,500-foot-long by 24-foot-high earthen ledge along the east side of the airport near Warwick Pond.  A similar wall of 1,500 feet will be constructed on the east side of Warwick Industrial Drive.

The pro-factor

According to a report in the Warwick Beacon dated January 7, 1992, those in favor of the proposal cite that $346.6 million is annually generated by airport activities; the employment of 1,200; salaries and wages estimated at $25.5 million and an average of $193.00 spent daily in the state by out of state passengers.   

Most observers of the airport have agreed that the expansion has been a success and that the airport at Hillsgrove now houses excellent facilities.  Obviously, there are many problems to be worked on in addition to noise and fumes.  One of these is the handling of baggage at “peak periods” and in management of parking.  Both these issues are being dealt with and with the soon to be completed RIAC’s 1,500-car garage and the Red Beam garage, parking should not be a major problem.  

Today, more people are flying out of T. F. Green than anytime in its history.  In the month of May 1999, 450,413 passengers took advantage of the new facilities and used the airport.  In July 1999, the number rose to over 500,000.  Elaine Roberts estimated that as many as 5 million passengers would pass through T. F. Green in 1999 while Bruce Sundlun, after whom the new terminal has been named, felt that 6 million could use the airport in the near future without any expansion.  He points out that with lower fares, flying is now within the reach of many American families and observed that, “There are a lot of unoccupied hours that could be utilized after the morning rush and before the late afternoon and evening traffic.”
The easy accessibility to other areas of New England has been an important factor as, according to Elaine Roberts, half of those using Green are from southeast and central Massachusetts.  She notes, “They’re discovering it’s a great airport to use.”  Some of the factors that have contributed to the increase in traffic have been the lower fares introduced by Southwest Airlines coming to Green.  Southwest is now competing with US Airways as Green’s largest carrier.  

The future looks bright with the aspect of direct service to Houston by Continental, another Chicago and Houston flight by Southwest, and the possibility of charter flights serving the Caribbean and perhaps areas in Europe.

The story of Hillsgrove and the effect the twentieth century has had on the village will be continued.

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