T.F. Green Airport took a large hit in terms of its overall offerings to passengers, as Norwegian Air Shuttle – the international airline that, at one time, offered 18 different flights to various cities in the United Kingdom, Norway and the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique – has announced it will cease all remaining flights from the Warwick airport as of Sept. 15, 2019.
The airline explained via a press release that their departure from Rhode Island – and the ceasing of all remaining routes between Green and Ireland – comes as a direct result of financial pressures exacerbated by the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX jets, which remains without a resolution following deadly crashes in October of 2018 and March of 2019.
“We take a strict approach to route management and constantly evaluate route performance to ensure we meet customer demand,” said Matthew Robert Wood, Norwegian senior vice president of commercial long-haul and new markets, in the release that came out on Tuesday. “Compounded by the global grounding of the 737 MAX and the continued uncertainty of its return to service, this has led us to make the difficult decision to discontinue all six routes from Dublin, Cork and Shannon to the U.S. and Canada from 15 September 2019.”
“The worldwide grounding of the 737 Max, which has entered its [sixth] month has clearly impacted Norwegian’s business model to the point where they made the decision to cancel the PVD to Dublin route as well as routes in other states,” concurred Bill Fischer, spokesman for the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC), in a statement.
Fischer indicated that the Norwegian routes out of Green were “extremely successful” since the airline announced it would be coming to Green in 2017. According to data from the International Air Transport Association and the Airlines Reporting Corporation, he states, the route from Green to Dublin alone had approximately 125,000 total passengers between July 2017 and April 2019.
“The only silver lining is that we can point potential new airline partners to those passenger numbers, which clearly demonstrate the demand,” Fischer wrote.
It is not clear how much revenue T.F. Green will lose from the loss of Norwegian’s flights, and Fischer did not respond to a request for this information on Wednesday. The loss of the airline’s Irish routes comes on the heels of Norwegian ending its Norway, Scotland and French Caribbean routes in 2018. Without these, Green now has only one international route – its connection to Toronto through Air Canada – and no routes that go overseas.
The Norwegian press release states that the airline had “tireless sought to minimize the impact on our customers by hiring (wetleasing) replacement aircraft to operate services between Ireland and North America.” However, with the fate of the Boeing 737 MAX still unknown, that short-term solution was “unsustainable.”
The airline has indicated passengers who have tickets to Irish destinations after the cutoff date can still get to their destinations by rerouting them through other Norwegian services. If customers affected by the cessation of service do not wish to take this offer, they can request a full refund for their ticket purchases. Services from Ireland to Oslo, Stockholm and Copenhagen are not affected.
“We would like to thank Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports in addition to New York Stewart, Providence and Hamilton airports, tourism partners and our colleagues and customers for supporting Norwegian’s transatlantic expansion from Ireland since 2017,” the release concludes.
Fischer indicated that T.F. Green is already in the process of seeking a replacement for the lost service that Norwegian provides.
“We have been in ongoing discussions for the past few months with potential airline partners and are hopeful to make some announcements in the future that will create greater travel options for Rhode Islanders,” he wrote.
Mayor Joseph Solomon was concerned on Wednesday about the potential for local economic impact of losing the airline.
“The airport I've always looked at as an economic locomotive for the city of Warwick, it being an international gateway into the community,” he said. “I like reaping the benefits [of the airport doing well], whether it be our hotels, our restaurants or things of that nature. We're their first point of contact, and we kick back and forth but the city is a key beneficiary so, when things are slow at RIAC it does have an effect on the local economy.”
Solomon went so far as to surmise that national goings-on, such as increased tensions over immigration and a heightened tightening of border security, may have an impact on global travel, in addition to the concerns over the Boeing grounding.
“I think when you take all of these items, I think it has a natural affect not just on Green, but all airports nationally and probably internationally speaking,” he said. “I would be curious to see if numbers are up or down and how they compare to other airports and locales.”
However, he said he had faith in RIAC’s leadership, primarily Iftikhar Ahmad (RIAC’s president and CEO), to right the ship.
“I know that Iftikhar and RIAC, they will continue to think outside the box to keep Green going. I will try to promote as much as I possibly can because this administration and over at RIAC they've been very open with us and communicative with us,” he said. “I'm hopeful things will bounce back and I'm optimistic that we will. We've had this roller coaster ride in the past, and I feel very confident in the people who are at the helm right now.”
Fischer did not respond to an inquiry regarding what would be happening to a facility that Norwegian had used as their base for airline personnel and pilots, which closed in January of this year. Nor did he respond to an inquiry about the fate of some $3.4 million the airline paid between waiving landing fees for two years and marketing services provided to land the airline in the first place.