By JOHN HOWELL
The pandemic punched holes in passenger traffic as flights were cancelled and services were dropped and what planes flew were virtually empty. But as people stayed home online sales …
By JOHN HOWELL
The pandemic punched holes in passenger traffic as flights were cancelled and services were dropped and what planes flew were virtually empty. But as people stayed home online sales took off to fill the pouches of air freight carriers.
Since 2019 Rhode Island International T. F. Green Airport has experienced a 41 percent growth in air cargo according to John Goodman, vice president of marketing at the Rhode Island Airport Corporation. Now, just months after approval of a 20-year airport master plan, the board has moved ahead with a $877,000 contract with AECOM to design plans for the construction of a “pad ready” site for cargo development on the southwest side of the airfield that would include the demolition of a portion of a long term parking lot plus the demolition and relocation of an existing sound wall. Two proposals for he work were received on Oct. 5, 2021 with AECOM chosen for the job. A Federal Aviation Administration airport improvement grant application is to be completed by this April 11 with a final design later this year.
Goodman said site development would support two phases of cargo facility development, the first being a 100,000 square foot facility that would be leased to an air cargo company, which was not identified. The overall development is pegged at $100 million.
“There may be a second phase sometime in the future when the demand is there for another cargo building,” Goodman wrote in an email. As for the first phase, Goodman wrote, “While initial site development work has begun, the timetable for any design or construction is dependent on establishing a lease agreement with a cargo company.”
The city administration has been informed of plans for an enlarged cargo facility and while plans remain in the developmental phase, Mayor Frank Picozzi said his primary concern is how vehicles would access the site. He does not want trucks using Main Avenue or Strawberry Field Road West to access cargo facilities. City planners suggest with the addition of off and on ramps, the Airport Connector could become available thereby keeping the bulk of traffic related to air cargo off local roads.
Ward 3 Councilman Tim Howe, who said the city administration has kept him in the loop, said he saw three basic proposals for the area including leaving it as it is, expansion of current uses and cargo as defined in the master plan. He said the cargo plan includes a 20-foot high earthen berm along Strawberry Field Road West that would slope toward residences on the south side and have a wall on the north or airport side.
Goodman writes, "As you may recall, in order to make the airport ready for increased cargo demand, pad development was one of the initiatives included in the Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport’s 20-year Master Plan. Since 2019, the total volume of air cargo traveling through Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport has grown 41%, with demand expected to increase further over time. This is cargo that is destined for homes and businesses in Warwick, our state, and may even include areas beyond the state lines."
Howe points out until there is a specific plan it's difficult to assess its impacts to the community. At that point he expects there would be one or more community meetings where questions and concerns could be addressed.
"It makes sense to have cargo, every set of wheels is revenue (for the state economy," he said.
"We have an airport. It's here to stay. My goal is to work with the airport and its neighbors for the best fit. I want it (the airport) to be successful. It's there and I want it to be beneficial."
Goodman said over the past four years RIAC has "engaged in extensive planning and outreach to inform the city and community of the potential for planned airport projects over the next two decades, including the potential development for cargo services on airport property."
He also said $1.4 million was spent on developing the master plan that included numerous outreach presentations and advertising during which, "no concerns were expressed regarding expanded cargo facilities."
Figures provided by The Rhode Island Airport Corporation show year to date cargo both enplaned and deplaned through October 2021 was 29.9 million pounds as compared for 24.4 million pounds for the same period in 2020 and 21.3 million pounds for 2019.
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