Bigger planes, additions to the terminal, relocated and wider taxiways and another parking garage are all part of the plan for the future of Green Airport.
But longer runways and the acquisition of additional homes were not on the agenda as Rhode Island Airport Corp. consultants answered questions and welcomed input Tuesday at the first of two public workshops on the 20-year airport master plan.
It was a remarkably different scene and turnout from the days when former RIAC President and CEO Kevin Dillon held a public meeting – also at the Crowne Plaza – on what was then the proposed extension of the main runway by more than 1,000 feet to today’s 8,700 feet. At that time, the Crowne’s ballroom was packed and breakout sessions with airport planners were animated as homeowners discovered whether their property fell within the high-noise contour – meaning they were subject to acquisition – or not.
This master plan update, which RIAC needs to do to remain eligible for certain Federal Aviation Administration grants, is all about adjustments to accommodate anticipated changes in the airline industry and a forecast 3.2 percent annual growth in passenger traffic and 1.1 percent growth in operations.
All of the suggested options for such growth are within Green’s existing fences. Predictably, some of the airport’s more vigilant watchdogs – including Richard Langseth and Philip D’Erocle – were present for this week’s workshop, as were Ward 2 Councilman Jeremy Rix and Ward 8 Councilman Anthony Sinapi. Yet for most of the four-hour session, consultants from C&S Companies and RIAC personnel outnumbered the public.
The forecast is the key to the plan, but as Marc Champigny of C&S pointed out, the projections are just that. Should, for example, additional airlines choose to operate from the airport and aircraft operations and passenger traffic take off, then what was envisioned as possible expansion of the terminal in 15 years may need to be taken in five years. Conversely, if airport traffic took a tailspin, the plan for 15 years hence may never be needed.
Champigny said C&S would be putting costs to each of the options during July and August to give RIAC additional information on how it would want to proceed when the time comes. Part of the C&S assessment will also include what projects would be eligible for FAA funding, he said.
Of all the options under consideration, those involving the terminal appeared most elaborate – and, as a consequence, most costly.
“It’s all about peak numbers,” said Scott Tumolo of C&S. With drawings ranging from modest additions to the existing terminal to a new and larger building extending into the airfield, he explained the terminal needs to be able to handle security, baggage claim and the numbers of people at their projected maximums. Next, he said, is to provide RIAC with the alternatives to give the “best bang for the buck.”
Consultant Elaine Grayner offered a view on the aircraft using the field and how that in turn could impact taxiways. The predominately larger aircraft using Green today is the Boeing 757 or equivalent Airbus with about 180 passengers. She forecasts that will transition to more Boeing 767s – the airplane the Patriots have at Green – capable of carrying more than 200 passengers. The third step she forecast is the Boeing 787, which carries about 280 passengers and is capable of greater range than the others.
Bigger planes will require extended “shoulders” on some taxiways to prevent FOD, or foreign object damage, to engines. She also said the plan considers realignment of taxiways to improve efficiency and safety.
David Macedonio of WSP USA, which is working with C&S, outlined a couple of plans to address the condition that requires motorists on the departure level to circle the terminal for access to Post Road. Included in those plans is relocation of the cell phone waiting lot to within the traffic pattern and another parking garage in the short-term parking lot.
The planners also took a look at potential expansion and/or relocation of general aviation and cargo operations on the north side of the field and abutting Airport Road. Consultant Kim Farbend said what happens to those operations is largely driven by private companies.
The C&S team also solicited input on environmental impacts.
Rix questioned what can be done to ensure that aircraft operations are within the voluntary midnight to 6 a.m. curfew, noting that a constituent has called persistently about a 1:30 a.m. flight waking her. Christine Vitt of RIAC pointed out that the airport remains open to operations 24-7 and that the curfew is strictly voluntary.
It was mentioned that studies have shown that barriers, whether trees or a wall, can influence the amount of particulates from aircraft exhaust, and it was asked if those had been considered for Winslow Park playing fields. Vill said they hadn’t. She was not aware of the studies.
As for whether the projected increase in operations would mean adjustments in the noise contours that might make additional properties eligible for acquisition, Vitt said the contours would be updated after completion of the plan, but she cautioned: “I don’t want to send out false hopes [of home purchases] out there.”
She suspects in some instances, the contours will actually be constricted.
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