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.
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 "...in 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.
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.
Today’s modern airport is a far cry for the small original terminal seen her in the background. From the Kirby Fritz Collection.