Southwest Airlines changed commercial aviation in Rhode Island when it picked Green Airport as the place to introduce its low-cost airfares to New England. Green became one of the faster growing airports in the country, recording double-digit percentage increases in passenger traffic month after month in the mid 1990s.
It was called the “Southwest effect.”
On Tuesday, the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) announced another first with regularly scheduled international service to and from Frankfurt, Germany, starting June 18, 2015.
“This is very much a major victory,” said RIAC President and CEO Kelly Fredericks.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee compared it to going out on a fishing trip and landing a Giant Blue Fin Tuna.
According to the announcement, Condor Airlines, which operates from other American cities, will fly Boeing B767/300 aircraft with 259 seats with two flights on Mondays and Thursdays. The projected flight time to Germany is 7 hours, 20 minutes, with the return flight taking about an hour longer.
According to the Condor website, tickets are currently available, and range in price from $444.99 for economy to $938.99 for business, one-way.
“This is the fish that we’re looking to get into the boat,” Chafee said.
The governor lauded the RIAC team and the state’s hospitality and tourism councils for pushing for the Condor service.
“The tourism team was all over it,” he said.
While Chafee said Europeans visiting this country might not have heard of Providence and Rhode Island, Newport is recognized internationally. He called the announcement “similar in importance” to Southwest and jetBlue coming to Green.
“They’re going to go all over the state,” he said of those who would be flying into Green.
Chafee noted that these visitors will surely go elsewhere in the country, “but they would have started right here in Rhode Island.”
The German connection is not dependent on a longer runway, although in advocating lengthening the main runway from 7,166 to 8,700 feet, non-stop coast-to-coast and international flights were continually mentioned as a primary reason. Lengthening that runway, which is part of a capital improvement project including extended safety areas on the shorter crosswind runway, is projected for a December 2017 completion. A ceremonial groundbreaking for the runway extension is slated for this coming Monday.
Green is well equipped to handle international flights. The terminal was built with custom and immigration facilities, and Fredericks said staffing could be managed with a reconfiguration of personnel and at no direct added cost. Condor would use Gate 7, which is currently being used by United.
“We’re teed up and ready to go,” said Fredericks.
Condor is offering season service from June to September, which Fredericks said could be the vanguard to service to other European destinations. He named Paris, London and Ireland.
Green has been used for charter international flights, such as those to the Azores and the Caribbean, but Fredericks emphasized this would be the first regularly scheduled international service from the airport.
Is it the “game changer” that will bring Green to the next level of air service?
Mayor Scott Avedisian, who participated in Tuesday’s announcement, believes it can be.
“It opens the gateway to Europe,” he said. “There’s a lot of interest and buzz in making this work.”
Avedisian imagines there is as much interest, if not more, for Germans to visit the United States than for Americans to be flying to Germany. This is a market opportunity being considered by the tourism industry here.
James Bennett, chairman of the R.I. Convention Center, was also present for the announcement. He sees the service as being valuable to some companies already doing business here. The big plus to Rhode Island, he pointed out, are its costs relative to Boston and New York.
“What you have to consider is access and expense. Every way you look at this, this is a positive benefit,” he said.
In that respect, he sees Green as providing a “gateway to business opportunities.”
Fredericks said the international service “would only enhance [Green’s] visibility.” He said it puts the airport on a footing with Baltimore-Washington International and other medium hub airports.
Whether it puts it in the position where Europeans will gravitate to Frankfurt to come here, or vice versa, may all hinge on rates. As Southwest demonstrated when it commenced service here, rates in addition to convenience are a significant factor when choosing an airport and airlines.
A perusal of the web found the least expensive round trip flight to Frankfurt from Boston to be a United flight for $1,205, about $300 more than the Condor economy rate for next June.
Maybe Condor has something, and in the years ahead they’ll be talking about “the Condor effect.”