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RI National Guard not collecting info from passengers on private and chartered flights

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – While passengers landing at T.F. Green International Airport must submit personal information to the R.I. National Guard as part of the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, people coming in through smaller airports on private planes and chartered flights are getting a pass, Target 12 has learned.

Gov. Gina Raimondo last week ordered all passengers coming into the state’s flagship airport to stop and submit details to the state’s militia about their travel plans before self-quarantining for two weeks. She doubled down on that order Friday, ordering the National Guard to go door-to-door along seaside communities to look for New Yorkers.

The order, she said, is designed to help pinpoint people who might be carrying COVID-19, which has recently been found more frequently in people who have traveled domestically.

But the state is not currently applying the same rules to travelers on private and chartered flights coming into Rhode Island at smaller airports, including Block Island State Airport, North Central State Airport, Quonset State Airport and Westerly State Airport. Like they T.F. Green, they are all overseen by the R.I. Airport Corporation, a quasi-public agency.

“National Guard personnel are not stationed at other airports,” Raimondo spokesperson Josh Block wrote in an email. “Those on private flights are bound by the same requirement to self-quarantine for 14 days. We are relying on announcements at airports, direct communication with airline companies and pilots, and the daily announcements and news media in order to ensure that message reaches every audience.”  

The smaller airports don’t have nearly the same passenger volume as T.F. Green, but the flight-tracking website Flightaware.com shows private and chartered flights have landed at each of the different locations multiple times per day over the last week.

The flights have come in from various places, including New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and as far as Ohio. A search of different booking sites showed the cost of chartered flights to and from Rhode Island airports can range from $2,000 to $23,000 per hour.

Raimondo has not discouraged people fleeing harder-hit areas like New York from coming to their second homes in Rhode Island, but she has told them to follow the rules.

It’s not entirely clear how that strategy fits into the broader effort to boost tacking efforts across the state, as the private and charter plane travelers would likely either have to submit their information voluntarily, or wait for a knock at the door from a member of the National Guard.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Ted Nesi contributed to this report.

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