Airport director targets 5 million passengers & more
Where his predecessor was a problem solver intent on concluding more than a decade of community debate and giving Green Airport a longer runway, Kelly Fredericks is the salesman focused on expanding airport service and having annual passenger traffic counts return to 5 million and more.
During an hour-long interview Friday, Fredericks turned only once to point out the mounds of dirt that define ongoing safety improvements to Runway 16-34, the shorter of Green’s two runways that will remain closed until late November. It will close again next spring for an expansion of the safety area on its easterly end.
That project and ones to extend Runway 5-23 to 8,700 feet and build a deicing fluid collection system were secondary to his agenda of building the airport.
Fredericks, who comes to Rhode Island from Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, where he was in charge of expansion projects, has been in Rhode Island for less than five months. Listening to him, you conclude he’s already one of the state’s biggest fans. He has also got some fans of his own.
“There’s way more opportunity here than I expected. I’ve been blown away by Rhode Island,” he said, easing into an office chair. Two walls of the office look out on jetways with red and blue Southwest 737s nosed to the terminal and beyond to the expanse of the airfield, but he doesn’t face that panorama. Today, his attention is on a wall-mounted flat screen monitor and a Power Point presentation. He holds the remote and clicks slides showing Green’s market area and its geographic relation to Boston’s Logan and Hartford’s Bradley.
Fredericks, who will be leasing a house in North Kingstown, is amazed by the reception he’s received. He cites what he calls “unprecedented access” to the state’s elected officials and business leaders. He names the state’s congressional delegation, the governor, State House leaders and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.
“I have never seen such recognition for the importance of an airport [to the local economy],” he said.Warwick City Planner William DePasquale, who has worked on airport issues for better than a decade, likes Fredericks’ style. He said Fredericks has accommodated requests for information and he appreciates his role as a partner in economic development. DePasquale said Fredericks requested copies of the detailed plans for development of the station district. He said he has also been helpful in cutting through FAA red tape for positioning of a cell phone tower to replace the Apponaug Mill tower when it is removed to make room for the village circulator. The tower is in the flight path to the runway that will be extended.“He’s been real open to community needs, inherently different than other administrations,” DePasquale explained that Fredericks’ “vision of community is different; he views it more of a partnership.”Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce President Laurie White said Fredericks and his appreciation of the business community’s role at the airport impress her. She said Fredericks has a lot of energy and brings Rhode Island “a lot of insight” to the airline industry.“We are anxious to work with him,” she said. She said the chamber plans a reception to honor Fredericks who will be featured in the next quarterly chamber publication.
Fredericks cites “air service development” as his priority. That means more flights, new destinations – Texas is high on his list for direct service – and more cargo. He believes Texas can be achieved without a longer runway, which is not projected to be completed for another four years.How much more does he want?
“As much as we can get here is good,” he said.Getting into the specifics, he said, “It’s safe to say” jetBlue, Green’s newest large airline, would be providing more flights. Fredericks would like to see flights go to JFK, Ft. Meyers and Palm Beach.
In the big picture, it’s the passenger counts he’s targeted. Although passenger traffic has ticked up – a reflection of jetBlue’s entrance – Fredericks expects the airport will end the current calendar year with 3.8 million to 3.9 million passengers. Green’s high water mark for passenger traffic was 5.7 million in 2005.Growth is happening. Presently, Green flights provide about 6,995 outgoing seats daily, about 1,000 more than at this time last year. Fredericks points out that cargo is up 6.7 percent for the year. Most of it, he said, is outgoing. It’s a segment of airport business he would like to capitalize on with an airport sorting facility.
Fredericks is optimistic about the pending merger of US Airways, which has a 23 percent share of Green’s business, and American, that once had a commanding presence, but no longer operates from Green.
“I think it is going to be good for us,” he said. He reasons the merger could bring a “short list” of markets currently being served by American.
Clicking though his presentation, Fredericks stops at a photograph of a well-lit vacant room of cordoned aisles and empty counters. It’s the FIS (Federal Inspections Services) facility, the processing center for international flights.
“We’re set up,” he says enthusiastically. “Many airports talk about international flights, but we can do it.” He’s thinking of flights to the Azores and Europe. The Caribbean is also on his list.
As another initiative to bring additional traffic, Fredericks talks about the comparative cost of using Green and Logan. With its access, parking rates and the cost of supporting amenities (hotels and restaurants), Fredericks aims to market Green as the place to fly from.
“We’re working hard to capture the leakage lost to Boston,” he said.
Part of that is the revitalization of the Go Green Alliance that was spearheaded by the chamber. The alliance lobbied for a longer runway. Now Fredericks is looking for the alliance to help him bring more airlines and service to the airport.
“Once it starts coming this way,” he says of airline traffic, “it’s going to stay coming his way.”
Fredericks meets regularly with Mayor Scott Avedisian. He says they have a good working relationship and that he is looking to return some airport-owned land to the city’s tax rolls. Another possible development, he said, is access to the interlink walkway by a hotel. He didn’t offer specifics, but this is consistent with development of the Warwick Station District.
“He is an advocate for the citizens of Warwick and the airport,” he said of the mayor.“Kelly has been very easy to deal with,” Avedisian said in an email. “We meet at least monthly and often more. He is focused and goal-oriented. With the excellent leadership of Dr. Kathleen Hittner, the relationship between RIAC and the city has never been better. Of particular note is the fact that we are moving forward on the relocation of the Winslow Park ball fields, looking at rezoning of some airport-owned property to get development back on the tax rolls, and looking at other airport related use for land that will pay the city dividends into the future.”
Fredericks said he is planning to deliver a “state of the airport” address at a public meeting sometime in October or November.
As for other airports under the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, Fredericks makes no bones about shedding, or changing, operations that are losing money. Overall, he said, the state’s five other airports collectively lost $687,000 last year. This includes a $755,000 profit from operations at Quonset, meaning that four airports lost more than $1.4 million.
“Our cost per operation is way higher [than other airports],” he said.
Fredericks said he is looking to bring back a consultant that did a study some time ago to take a fresh look at the system and come up with recommendations. An option he mentioned is the transfer of assets of, say, Newport or Westerly Airports to those municipalities.