Op-Ed: Come Fly With Me

A new name also brings new opportunities for growth at the Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport


The renamed Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport (formerly T.F. Green Airport), with its massive signs on Route 95, is taking off – literally!

Already in an advertising battle with Boston’s Logan Airport, its much larger competitor, our second-tier airport has always fought above its weight. With Breeze Airline’s major commitment to T.F. Green, the growing airport has become a travel hub, for both connecting flights and destinations. Over the next five years, Breeze will double its presence, making it one of their largest hubs with 200 weekly non-stop flights to 18 destinations, including three international or US territories, and will base up to 12 aircraft here. 

Iftikhar Ahmad, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, is ecstatic. “Breeze is a really big deal and this commitment and their expected growth is important as we continue to work with several other potential additional airlines,” he explains. The state will give Breeze $2.9 million in tax credits for adding 116 jobs over 5 years.

Ahmad was brought here following a six-year stint running the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport where he overhauled internal airport management and oversaw $300 million in renovations and a new $826 million terminal. While he really liked the airport, the biggest selling point for him to move to Rhode Island was the quality of life for his family. He oversees the state’s six airports: RI International Airport (T.F. Green), Newport State Airport, Quonset State Airport, North Central State Airport, Block Island State Airport, and the Westerly State Airport.

An important part of his job is being an ambassador, cheerleader, and business leader for the airport and the state. He’s been credited with reducing the cost for airlines doing business in RI while simultaneously elevating the experience of travelers. He talks “with great pride” about the new and improved restrooms and the continued terminal upgrades and improvements. 

“We’re the introduction to RI for business people, vacationers, and students, so it’s important that we make a great first impression,” Ahmad adds. Providence placed third in Condé Nast Traveler’s Top 10 Airports in the U.S. in their Readers’ Choice Awards.

It hasn’t been all clear skies at the airport, and Ahmad admits there has been some “turbulence.” Norwegian Air came in with great hope and promise, but their fleet was made up of Boeing’s 737-300 Max, which was pulled from service because of a flaw in the software that took flight control away from the pilots without their knowledge, and then COVID hit. There has also been “turbulence” with the city of Warwick over the surrounding neighborhoods and the new $100 million freight terminal, but that too seems to have been resolved.

Last year, the airport served almost 3.5 million passengers, with service to 34 domestic and three international airports. Southwest accounted for about a third of current passengers with American, Delta, JetBlue, and Breeze making up about 10-12 percent each and 25 percent spread among other airlines. Breeze’s goal is to climb to 1 million passengers annually.

In 2005, T.F. Green traffic increased to a high of 5.7 million passengers during the height of the “Big Dig,” which was restricting access to Boston’s Logan Airport. After 2005, airlines started consolidating service at larger airports, which reduced service and frequencies at mid-sized and small hubs, including Providence. “We know that we can confidently scale up to accommodate increased traffic,” Ahmad explains. “And the fact that most airlines are using larger planes lowers their cost while increasing numbers.”

Seven and a half million people live within 90 minutes of the airport. Top destinations are Orlando, Baltimore, Charlotte, Washington, D.C, Atlanta, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, and Detroit. “It’s a data-driven business and all airlines have access to the PDEW (passengers per day each way), which tracks how many passengers, on average, travel between two cities each day. We know that between 42 and 50 percent of passengers will go to Boston for a non-stop flight, so Breeze’s commitment will double our non-stops,” explains Ahmad. 

The state undertook three major Depression-era construction projects; one of which was the airport (the Providence County Courthouse and George Washington Bridge were the other two). The airport was dedicated on September 27, 1931 as Hillsgrove State Airport, drawing over 100,000 people to what was at that time the largest crowd to attend a public function in the country! It was also the first state-owned airport in the United States. In 1938, the airport was renamed in honor of Senator Theodore Francis Green.

Perhaps a lesser-known fact is that the airport also houses two New England Patriots Boeing 767-300 planes, AirKraft 1 & 2 (call sign: UNDERDOG), with their distinctive six Super Bowl trophies on the tail.



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