New terminal planned for North Central Airport

New terminal planned for North Central Airport

SMITHFIELD – A new fence surrounding the North Central Airport on Jenkes Hill Road and a new terminal are among the top capital improvements planned for the next 10 years, according to Christine Vitt, senior vice president of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation.

RIAC hosted a Zoom meeting for NCA neighbors, members and stakeholders last Thursday, Jan. 14, to discuss a 10-year General Aviation Strategic Business Plan to summarize and prioritize necessary infrastructure improvements at each of the five smaller Rhode Island airports.

During the meeting, RIAC representatives discussed the results of a pavement analysis, building and infrastructure assessment, airspace analysis and financial consultations.

According to Vitt, the infrastructure assessment identified the $1.6 million fence replacement or repair as a priority project. She said the old terminal appears to need a complete demolition and new footprint, as well.

“Those are a priority project over the next few years,” she said.

Vitt added the purpose of the meeting was to ask invested parties what the community feels the airport should be like in 10 years.

The North Central Airport covers 475 acres in Smithfield and Lincoln and caters to mostly private and general aviation since opening in 1951. Larger airliners do not typically operate out of NCA.

Vitt described NCA as a general aviation level airport, which provides relief to commercial airports. General aviation airports in Rhode Island include the Quonset State Airport, the Westerly State Airport, Newport State Airport and the Block Island State Airport. T. F. Green State Airport is the sole commercial airport in the state. All are owned by RIAC, a semi-public corporation that oversees the development, operation and maintenance of state-owned airports.

Representatives also discussed the airport’s 2019 airspace analysis, which looks at mapping obstructions to airspace, including vegetation penetrating the approaching lanes.

Vitt said the analysis found several obstructions near the airport and that owners of neighboring properties will need to be contacted before the RIAC can cut trees or secure navigation easements.

“There are conflicting interests between various stakeholders including elected town officials, towns, businesses, citizens and neighbors,” Vitt said.

Smithfield does not support the Preservation of Safe Airspace Bill, which is intended to provide a statewide solution to address airspace obstructions and ensure public safety. Several other towns, including Middletown and Warwick, released letters in opposition to the bill, while Block Island, New Shoreham, North Kingston and the Block Island Tourism Council wrote letters in support.

The Rhode Island Senate passed the bill on June 13, and another version is pending in the House of Representatives.

RIAC Director of Public Relations John Goodman said RIAC is willing to listen to towns that are concerned about the scope of the bill.

In a press release, RIAC said it has been successful in negotiating necessary airspace easements with the majority of property owners in Westerly and Newport, though a small percentage of property owners have filed suit and allowed airspace-obstructing trees to continue to grow.

“This is an issue that isn’t going away,” Goodman said.