WARWICK, R.I. — The Rhode Island House of Representatives voted 63 to 9 Tuesday night to change the name of Theodore Francis Green Airport, better known as T.F. Green Airport.
But don’t worry: It’s not a big change.
Airlines have suggested for years that adding a geographic identifier to the name could help boost tourism to the state.
Speaker pro tempore Brian Patrick Kennedy recently introduced legislation to do so, and most state representatives voted in favor of the name Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport. (”Rhode Island International Airport,” also in the running, didn’t make the cut.)
John Goodman, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, said the estimated cost will be $200,000. He said all forms of branding, including on signs, will be done on a rolling basis, but that the airport will want to get it done “sooner rather than later.”
He said the name change will “not use any Rhode Island taxpayer funds,” because the RIAC is “self-sufficient,” as required by the Federal Aviation Administration. Goodman said that while the airport is doing better than other airports in the region, as of mid-April sales were still down 43 percent, compared to that same time in 2019.
“We are cautioning that it’s going to take many years to get back to 2019 levels,” he said.
Representative Charlene Lima, a Cranston Democrat and deputy speaker who has long criticized the airport’s leadership, said Tuesday on the House floor that the bill was “fiscally irresponsible” and “fundamentally flawed.”
“No airport in the country of over 5,000 airports is named after their state. And for good reason. For good, economically sound reasons,” Lima said. “All of the airports are named after a metropolitan area in the state that is marketed as a destination for tourists to visit.”
Goodman said Norwegian Air executives pointed out in 2017 that they noticed name-recognition challenges with travelers for both T.F. Green and Stewart Airport in New York. The following year, the New Windsor airport changed its name to New York Steward International Airport.
Lima said the explanation that because Rhode Island is a small state it can “do what other states cannot do” is flawed. She said it’s a “marketing disaster” and that rebranding companies or locations is expensive and “oftentimes, ineffective.” It would make more sense for the name to reflect Providence or “PVD,” she said.
“Think of Dunkin’ Donuts. They decided to drop ‘Donuts’ from their name,” she said. “Does anyone say ‘I’m going to Dunkin’ for a coffee?’ Or do they still say, ‘I’m going to Dunkin Donuts?’”
She added, “This is going to be an embarrassment across the country.”
Lima also said people do not know where Rhode Island is.
“People know Providence. People do not know Rhode Island,” she said. “If you go to New York and say, ‘Where is Rhode Island?’ They say, ‘Where is that? Long Island?’”
The airport was founded as Hillsgrove State Airport, and when it opened in July 1931 it was the first state-owned and operated airport in the United States. It was on 158 acres and included a single, state-built building called the Comfort Station, near Occupasstuxet Road (now Airport Road).
The iconic Art Deco-style terminal was constructed in 1933 to process passengers and luggage as well as house administrative offices and the control tower. It’s still in use today, as a Weather Service office.
Construction started on concrete runways in 1935, in a configuration that is still in use today. It was renamed Theodore Francis (T.F.) Green State Airport in 1938, in honor of a former governor and US senator.
The bill will now head to the Senate, which passed similar legislation introduced by majority leader Michael McCaffrey.