MIDDLETOWN — The Newport State Airport is a vital link to the wider world, largely flying under the radar while serving hundreds a week.
To help give people more of an idea about the entire operation, a “Newport State Airport Day” is planned for Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 211 Airport Access Road, Middletown. The rain date is Saturday, June 23.
Organizers said it’s the first event of its kind ever for the 223-acre facility between Forest Avenue and Oliphant Lane, also known as the Col. Robert F. Wood Airpark.
“This is something we’ve been talking about for years now and we decided this year that the time is right,” said Heather Corson, of the Newport Aviation flight school. “The airport is so important to our economy and tourism. So much happens here and it’s about time we talked about it.”
As part of the event, there will be airplane and helicopter rides for $30 per person. Skydiving discounts through Skydive Newport will also be available with reservations.
There will also be a talk about drones, a pre-flight experience with a local pilot, a question-and-answer session along with displays of World War II vintage planes, food trucks, fun facts about the airport and a presentation by the local National Guard officials. Alcohol and pets are not permitted.
According to state airport figures, there were about 24,000 flights a year in and out of the airport, about 4,000 more than five years ago.
With that increase, there have been some complaints about noise from the operation, leading to the creation of a new airport board that has helped address concerns.
Based on everything Corson has seen and heard, the issues with the airport were isolated and most people understood what was happening there and why.
“We’re a good neighbor, always have been,” Corson said. “Like anything else, there are always a handful of people who have concerns, but we have an ‘open-door policy’ and if someone wants to talk, we always extend a hand and want to hear what they have to say and see if we can help.”
Count Earl McMillen III, president of McMillen Yachts, Inc., is a big fan of the airport.
McMillen said that not a week goes by that neither he nor someone with his downtown Newport company is using the airport.
Flying regularly into much smaller airports across the county, he said the Newport operation stands up well and does a good job representing the region.
“I got my start 30 years ago this summer flying banners at the airport,” McMillen said. “I owe a lot to that airport and it’s a wonderful place. There’s such a positive, great energy there and something is always going on.”
Besides being a welcoming location for travelers, McMillen said the airport is much more than that.
Figures from the Rhode Island Airport Corporation back up McMillen’s points. According to data from the quasi-state agency that runs the airport, the airport generates more than $12.3 million annually in economic output and creates 78 full-time jobs directly and indirectly.
“What a lot of people don’t really think about is it’s a vital link for our tourism and trade economies,” McMillen said. “We’re there using it all the time and it would be a major loss if it was threatened.
“People come from New York and all over the region and it makes access to Newport so much easier. If the airport wasn’t here, a whole segment would just skip us and go to Martha’s Vineyard, the Hamptons and other spots that have airports.”
State Sen. Louis DiPalma said he was happy with the outreach from the airport, part of the operation’s continuing work to mesh into the community. DiPalma was instrumental in helping create the airport board.
“The airport has grown in popularity, leading to a 20 percent increase in takeoffs and landings over the course of five years,” DiPalma said. “This open house will afford the public the opportunity to visit the airport, talk with the multiple business and gain an understanding of the operations.”