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RI senator wants T.F. Green review following airline cuts

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WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – T.F. Green officials say they welcome a review of the airport, after a state senator asked the governor’s office to investigate whether it’s being well run.

State Sen. Sam Bell, D-Providence, called for the review of T.F. Green leadership in the wake of losses of several flights, including transatlantic routes on Norwegian Air.

“We have seen a series of really problematic failures,” Bell told Eyewitness News.

Norwegian launched transatlantic flights at T.F. Green in 2017. The airline’s final flight from Providence to Dublin will depart Sept. 14.

Norwegian’s move was the latest in a series of cutbacks for the airport.

As Eyewitness News reported in July, Frontier Airlines cut three routes from Rhode Island in 2019, Southwest slashed more than 900 flights for the year, and a direct, daily flight to Montreal folded before it ever took off.

Flights on Sun Country to the Dominican Republic, which were announced in May, also disappeared.

RIAC data shows T.F. Green had 1.56 million passengers from January through May, down more than 9% compared with the same period last year.

“I think the right solution here is to have the governor’s office look into the performance of the Airport Corporation management team to see if changes need to be made,” Bell said.

Bill Fischer, a spokesperson for the R.I. Airport Corporation (RIAC), called Bell’s accusations “demoralizing.”

“We’re all in here to turn this airport around,” Fischer said.

He also argued that despite recent flight cuts, the overall trend since 2015 is positive. For example, in the past three years, the airport increased the number of nonstop routes from 17 to 27.

“We have more routes today,” Fischer said. “We have more airlines today, and most importantly we have greater travel options for Rhode Islanders at a cheaper cost.”

“The loss of Norwegian and Punta Cana is due to extraneous circumstances,” he added, citing “security conditions” in the Dominican Republic and the grounding of the Boeing MAX 737 as “out of RIAC’s control.”

But Bell said he has serious questions about the airport’s financial arrangements with airlines, including a $2.3 million marketing incentive package Norwegian received.

“Deals that were made with millions of dollars of public money fell through, and that’s exactly the kind of economic development failure that we need to move beyond in Rhode Island,” Bell said.

Fischer argued it was money well spent.

“When somebody comes from overseas lands at T.F. Green Airport, the average spend is $977. We think we got more, way more, than the $2 million back in return,” Fischer said.

“We would welcome the review,” he added.

Josh Block, a spokesperson for Gov. Gina Raimondo, did not say whether her office would conduct a review of the airport’s management, but said the loss of Norwegian is disappointing.

“Airlines across the country have been impacted by the global grounding of the 737 MAX,” Block wrote in an email. “Norwegian’s decision to cancel all transatlantic flights that rely on this aircraft, including those in Providence, is disappointing, particularly given the success of the Providence-Dublin route.”

“We remain in constant communication with RIAC to ensure they are continuously seeking out new opportunities and protecting the progress they’ve made,” Block added.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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