Saturday, September 24, 2011

FAA gives final OK to longer runway, improvements at T.F. Green Airport. Theodore Francis Green State Airport (KPVD), Providence, Rhode Island.

The Federal Aviation Administration gave its final approval Friday to plans to extend the main runway at T.F. Green Airport and to make safety improvements to the airport’s crosswind runway.

“This is a great day for the airport,” said Kevin A. Dillon, president of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, which runs the state airport in Warwick.

Airport officials for more than a decade have said the airport needs a longer runway to make it more competitive economically.

A longer runway allows heavier planes to take off, including those loaded with fuel to reach more distant destinations, such as the West Coast, the Caribbean and parts of Europe. It also prevents airlines from having to bump passengers to other destinations on days when weather conditions require a longer runway.

Dillon said construction on the $165-million runway projects could begin as early as the spring of 2013. “We want to move as quickly as possible,” he said.

Local officials, who have fought the expansion plans, said Friday that they were not surprised by the FAA’s decision. They expressed continued concerns for the safety of those who live near the airport, as well as for nearby environmentally sensitive areas, including the Buckeye Brook wetlands at the southern end of the crosswind runway.

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian said he will talk to the City Council president about how to address the health and safety concerns of residents in the shadow of the airport who will be most affected by a runway extension.

He noted, however, that the decision issued Friday shows that the city’s long-running efforts to have the FAA recognize local concerns paid off somewhat because, when the airport first proposed expanding its airfield more than 10 years ago, before Dillon came on board, it wanted to extend both runways to nearly 10,000 feet each.

Councilman Steve Merolla said no one will argue that a thriving airport is good for the state’s economy but “there are also detriments for the residents who live around the airport.”

Although the FAA’s assent is the final federal approval, some portions of the project require state or city approval. The runway extension would affect two historic cemeteries, over which a city commission has jurisdiction. Plus, the state Department of Environmental Management and the city have jurisdiction over the Buckeye Brook wetlands.

Dillon said no further reviews are needed for the safety work at the northern end of the crosswind runway. “We’re essentially free to move forward with it.”

The runway projects require the airport to take privately owned businesses and homes, primarily to relocate two roads near the airport.

David J. Barger, president and chief executive of JetBlue Airways, which airport officials have been trying to lure to Green, praised the proposed runway extension this week.

“We’re really impressed with what we see with the infrastructure with Providence,” Barger told a Boston business group on Thursday.

He also posted praise on his Twitter account last weekend, including, “The terminal + rail link + and infrastructure plans are all very impressive.”

The safety improvements to the crosswind runway would include installation of a special type of concrete at each end that could stop a jetliner that overshot the runway by collapsing underneath the aircraft wheels, much like gravel on a runaway truck ramp on many highways.

The project calls for relocating Airport Road on the northern end of the airport and taking 10 business properties and a house, Dillon said.

Construction of the safety improvements could begin as soon as spring 2013, Dillon said. Preliminary work will begin almost immediately on two fronts: acquiring the privately owned land and developing final plans. Although federal grant money covering 75 percent of crosswind runway project would not be available until next year, Dillon said the airport could begin work now and get reimbursed later.

The airport would use bonds to borrow the other 25 percent of the estimated $77-million cost and pay them off through airport revenue, such as fees charged to airlines and to people who park at the airport.

Extending the main runway by 1,500 feet to the southwest to a total of 8,700 feet calls for the relocation of Main Avenue and the taking of 10 homes, Dillon said. The extension is estimated to cost $88 million.

It remains unclear when work on that project would begin. The Airport Corporation cannot apply for federal money for the project until next March, with a decision expected by next fall. By then, work should be well under way on the crosswind runway, and engineers would have to coordinate work to make sure the airport could stay open. 

The first construction work associated with the main runway extension would probably be relocating the Winslow ball fields off Main Avenue, Dillon said. It could begin as early as the fall of next year.

A copy of the FAA decision is available online at

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