Game changer at Green Airport

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“Game changer” were the words Mayor Scott Avedisian used to describe Thursday’s announcement that Norwegian Airlines would use Green Airport as a base for 16 weekly flights to Ireland and Scotland starting this summer.

Green has experienced other “game changers” since the days it was Hillsgrove Airport and American Airlines became the first major commercial airline to offer Rhode Island service. The most dramatic of those changes came following the major investment in a new terminal by the late Governor Bruce Sundlun. Soon after the terminal opened in 1996, Southwest Airlines brought its discount fares to Rhode Island and airline traffic soared, making Green the fastest growing airport in the country for a time. The airline industry has changed significantly since those days. 9/11, with the tightened security checks that followed, has replaced those carefree days when boarding a plane was like taking a bus. The economy and how we do business have likewise impacted the industry from the cost of fuel and the Great Recession to the Internet and its effects on commerce and business travel.

So, how might nonstop flights to five destinations on “the other side of the pond” change Green and Rhode Island?

For starters, the flights are Green’s first-ever year-round European routes. Condor Airlines brought seasonal service to Germany, and last summer Green celebrated the return of service to the Azores.

To deliver, Norwegian has committed two Boeing 737Max aircraft with 189 seats to the service. The planes are still on the assembly line and as Anders Lindstrom, Norwegian Air Director of Communications, joked Thursday “have that new car smell.” The Rhode Island Airport Corporation and Norwegian are exploring the possibility of a maintenance facility at Green, and already the airline has said it will soon announce a sixth destination from Green.

This is no “let’s try it and see if it works” experiment. It’s a huge investment. That’s part of why this is a game changer, but as Mayor Avedisian knows from living the “Southwest effect,” few things are a greater driver of traffic than cost.

Norwegian’s introductory $65 one-way fares were quickly snapped up. But depending on the day of travel the airlines offers $99 fares, making a roundtrip flight to Europe in some cases less than flying to Washington and back.

The hope is that Norwegian’s fares will have a ripple effect on other airlines serving Green and we’ll see a more competitive environment. Bigger yet is the prospect that increased flights will bring people to Rhode Island – to our hotels and restaurants – as they book flights out. Naturally, offering the prospect of even greater economic impact are those who will be arriving here.

Is Norwegian the new Southwest of Green Airport?

It has the potential of making Green a low cost gateway to Europe. That would be a game changer.

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