While talks are ongoing and nothing has been finalized, Kelly Fredericks told a meeting of airport stakeholders Tuesday morning that by next spring two airlines could provide Green with international flights four days weekly.
The tantalizing bit of news was all part of a 50-minute enthusiastic report by the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) president and CEO to an audience that included state and municipal officials, representatives from federal agencies such as the FAA and the TSA and organizations like the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
Fredericks has been in Rhode Island for a year and, as he has at previous gatherings and speaking events, he gushed about the cooperation he has received; and how business, union and state and city leaders recognize the economic importance of aviation. He said such solidarity gives Rhode Island a competitive advantage.
“There’s none better than here in Rhode Island,” he said.
This is Frederick’s second stakeholders’ meeting, which is aimed at informing those interacting with RIAC, and the six airports it operates, what the agency is doing and address questions about its work.
But, other than a teaser, Fredericks didn’t offer information on what airlines might be operating regularly scheduled international flights from Warwick or what destinations they could serve. It’s not hard to guess, however, that he is most likely talking about flights to Ireland. As has been reported, Fredericks said RIAC has a memorandum of agreement with the Shannon Airport Authority.
Discussions with Shannon are focused on cargo, rather than passenger traffic, and Fredericks envisions Green as a possible “cargo gateway to North America.” As for international passenger flights, Fredericks said RIAC should have an announcement “in the next several weeks.”
If they were to come this year, the international flights would precede a longer Runway 5-23. That runway is to be extended to 8,700 feet by Dec. 7, 2017 and will enable more international flights and non-stop service to the west coast.
Since his arrival at Green, Fredericks has been focused on implementing the improvement and expansion plan put in place by his predecessor, Kevin Dillon, and bringing Green Airport back to surpass its high traffic record of 5.7 million passengers set in 2005.
On the construction front, projects including safety improvements to the shorter runway, relocation of the Winslow Park playing fields and a facility to capture deicing fluids are under budget and on schedule.
Passenger traffic for 2013 saw an up-tick to 3.8 million – a first increase in many years – but a decline so far this year.
Fredericks isn’t worried. He attributed the marginal decline to capacity issues [the number of seats available, which is a reflection of the types of aircraft being used] and a prolonged winter. He also voiced concern that Southwest Airlines carries 50 percent of Green’s passengers. He would like to see a greater distribution between airlines. As he put it, he’s not looking for Southwest to lose passengers but for the pie to expand so that everyone gets a bigger piece.
Fredericks reminded his audience “that aviation pays for itself.”
“All bonds and debt service are backed by RIAC revenues,” he said, adding, “We’re in a better position than most to move forward.”
As it is now operating, Green is servicing 19 destinations with non-stop service. Fredericks would like to see that expanded to the high 20s or low 30s. He would like to see more New York City service and called Dallas and Houston “our biggest opportunities.” San Juan and Cancun were also in his wish list.
Fredericks sees the business coming from Boston’s Logan, which he said “can’t grow to accommodate future demand.”
Cost per enplanement, a guide used by airlines in comparing airport operational costs, is up for Green at $12.50. Fredericks attributed the increase to the $33.2 million cost of the system to capture deicing fluid, but said it is still less than Logan. He said it is more than Bradley outside Hartford and Manchester but he didn’t view them as competitors.