To the Editor:
Kevin Dillon is moving on to greener pastures. The Rhode Island Airport Corporation's (RIAC) president is leaving us for Bradley International Airport, outside of Hartford. His mission is to focus on flights to Europe and nonstop West Coast operations. Dillon's comments to the press include: “One of the things I bring to the table is lots of experience in New England.”
I attended Mr. Dillon's last RIAC board meeting. It was a subdued affair. The worst news was Mr. Dillon's revelation that passenger seat capacity at T.F. Green Airport is down 20 percent from last year. This resulted in a 10 percent drop in passenger counts for May. The situation is likely to continue for years to come.
There was some talk about holding the line of the "cost per enplanement" metric – that RIAC staff cannot allow airline costs per enplanement to increase. How can RIAC achieve that goal with a 20 percent decrease in available seats? RIAC needs to increase its charges to the airlines to make up for lost passenger fees. The only other option is to cut expenses. That’s the way budgets work – at home and at work. As a result, ticket prices will go up at Green, pushing more passengers to Bradley and Boston's Logan Airport.
Board members want to spend $30,000 to hire a search firm to find a new leader. Considering the $290,000 compensation plan in hand, I wonder why a simple ad in the airport managers' news magazine wouldn't be enough to find hundreds of candidates. RIAC has probably gotten dozens of résumés in the past week. Why don't we simply post the job on the state website?
Bradley reported 50 percent more passenger traffic than Green last year, while employing 38 fewer employees than at Green. Its cost-per-enplanement metric was $9 versus our $11. Bradley lost $3 million last year, a figure that has been of concern to the governor of Connecticut. His concern resulted in the shakeup that led to bringing Mr. Dillon into the picture. It will be interesting to see how he handles that $3 million loss.
Mr. Dillon may focus his attention on freight. The longer runway proposed at Green was essentially to increase freight operations. The original T.F. Green EIS showed 20 to 40 freight operations per day to pay for the extended runway. One thousand people showed up when these numbers were discussed at a public meeting. The freight numbers were then buried – replaced by eight nonstop passenger flights to California per day. Yeah, right. (As mentioned in many previous letters, Green’s runways are more than long enough to accommodate flights to the West Coast.)
Bradley is fundamentally different from Green. It is in the center of a major three-town industrial park through which the airport authority hands out tax incentives for manufacturing and logistics investments. The chair of the airport authority is the president of Engine Alliance LLC, a joint company of General Electric and Pratt & Whitney. Alliance manufactures the quietest and most efficient jet engine in the world. Both Pratt and GE are domiciled in Connecticut. Mr. Dillon will work for this executive.
Mr. Dillon is now in charge of managing the tax credits and other goodies passed out to prospective manufacturing, airfreight, and other logistics companies moving into Bradley. He will fill up empty industrial and logistics space that, in some cases, you can roll planes to.
Can we compete with Bradley’s Dillon in bringing new companies to our state? Mr. Dillon will be squiring executives around the airport in nearby Connecticut. They will be looking at the Bradley Airport Development Zone. This is an enterprise zone with millions of square feet of empty industrial space tied directly to the airport, and hundreds of acres of potential research and development space in the Connecticut woodlands overlooking the airport. All with tax abatements and tax credits. Our Quonset space is great, but there is little room for expansion there. That's the only place in Rhode Island that comes close to Bradley.
We need to recruit a new executive director who can hold the line on airline costs. The airlines are required to pay for the deicing pollution problems and some safety improvements at Green. Good luck to this new executive director as he or she is tasked with the Herculean mission of selling the airlines on increasing seating capacity by at least 50 percent to fund the runway extension while facing increased fees to pay for the other things.
Boston's Logan Airport has captured millions of Green's passengers since 2005, with more defections coming. Now we are faced with a renegade Kevin Dillon over in Connecticut, hell-bent on solving his inherited $3 million loss situation by capturing more passengers and freight. He has some pretty easy pickings in Eastern Connecticut and Western Rhode Island – places from which passengers traditionally have driven to Green. At the very least, we should demand that the next RIAC executive director sign a non-compete agreement to preclude another Dillon situation.
We don't want a new executive director who can learn our secrets and then move on to directly compete with us. Enough is enough. There will be no runway extension at Green anytime soon with Mr. Dillon whispering in airline executives' ears about the wonders of it all at Bradley International.
Greenwich Bay Watershed Group