White’s LOOKOUT RI: TF Green Expansion May Fuel Europe Connection
Monday, September 23, 2013
A longer runway for Green came with the expectation that airlines would then be able to use Green to reach California destinations, in effect providing coast-to-coast service. Providing the West Cost option was also seen as a way of boosting passenger traffic numbers at Green, which has experienced fewer travelers passing through the Bruce Sundlun Terminal in recent years.
It would also bring Green’s runway up to par with the runway expansion at Manchester NH’s airport which is already in operation, and help Green compete with Manchester against Boston’s Logan Airport.
But even with a longer runway in place for several years now, Manchester’s passenger numbers have been declining just like Green’s, so the question is why? The fly in the ointment affecting both airports is the increasing consolidation that’s taking place in the airline industry, especially with the merger of US Airways and American, now under way. (Though the Feds are opposing this merger, a modified merger agreement will probably be worked out and approved.) With consolidation comes a greater reliance on regional hubs and fewer flights offered from smaller “spoke” airports that feed the hubs, like Green and Manchester.
It might seem counter-intuitive to force more travelers to endure the hassles of using Logan, but it does make better economic sense to do so from the airlines’ standpoint, and that’s the bottom line: more flights on bigger jets from the hub airports and fewer flights on smaller planes from the spoke airports.
So while we are late to the game in terms of having a longer runway – and the runway expansion is not expected to be completed until 2017 – it may not matter much in the way state and aviation officials hoped it would because merged, mega-airlines have changed their strategy in how they employ their flights and which airports they now rely more on. We can therefore expect fewer options from Green, on smaller planes full to the cabin ceiling.
If Rhode Island wants to think big and provide another future for our airport, why not explore an international connection? There are many regional airports in the U.S. that are “international” because they connect to Canada, the Caribbean or Mexico. What is our claim to such a connection?
It’s the “Pond.” And that’s a big connection.
The “European Connection” to Green would involve attracting Easyjet or Ryanair to fly from points in Great Britain or Ireland direct to Green. Ryanair’s CEO has been quoted as saying the airline has an interest in flying to the East Coast. With too much competition and high landing fees at Logan, these airlines are looking for a landing spot. TF Green is the right choice. We offer regular service to many U.S. cities; we are well positioned to continuing travel up and down the East Coast, and we have a great capital city and a beautiful, bountiful state to present to our overseas visitors.
That is why Governor Chafee, RIEDC and RIAC officials should consider “moving the needle” on TF Green. If we could land transatlantic service at Green as an alternative to Logan it would be a game changer for the airport and its future.
It was Governor Sundlun after all, an aviator and Rhode Island big thinker, who sold his vision for a revitalized Green Airport and made it happen. We could use some of that kind of thinking these days.
John Hazen White, Jr. is President and CEO of Taco, Inc. in Cranston and is the founder of Lookout RI.
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