International flights has audience intrigued at airport update briefing
Kelly Fredericks is good at getting people’s interest.
The president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) did it again Tuesday morning at the first of what promises to be quarterly update meetings with city and state officials, area business leaders, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) representatives and chamber leaders.
In what has become familiar ground for the airport’s cheerleader, Fredericks outlined all of the projects RIAC is undertaking and said Green is recovering from the slide in passenger traffic that started five years ago and is on its way to 5 million passengers annually and even more.
But it was the unanswered that had many in his audience intrigued and had them wondering if comments that the airport could have regularly scheduled international flights that was carrying optimism to extremes.
“What is the likelihood of two weekly international flights?” asked someone at the Airport Sheraton.
Fredericks looked at his marketing team of Patti Goldstein and Tim Pimental, who he touted as being the most aggressive in the business. He answered by saying maybe he was stepping a bit beyond the bounds and gave it a 75 to 80 percent chance of happening. He went a step further and disclosed the flights are currently operating out of Boston’s Logan, and the plane is a Boeing 757-200. He said such service out of Green could be the “tipping point” to renewed growth in passenger traffic.
“We’re stealing back what is ours,” he said with a smile.
After Fredericks’ talk, the buzz was that it would be a flight to Ireland. Goldstein didn’t provide any additional information, other than, if the service comes to Green, it would be soon and would be long before completion of an extension to Runway 5-23 to 8,700 feet.
The longer runway, the centerpiece to $225 million in airport construction projects, will involve the relocation of Main Avenue. That project, Fredericks said, is slated for completion in 2017, with the first takeoff on Dec. 7 that year. By that time, safety improvements to the shorter Runway 16-34, which is ongoing with the demolition of Hangar 1 being the most visible work, will have been long completed. Also, under the timetable the playing fields at Winslow Park will be relocated and RIAC will have finished work on a de-icing fluid recovery system in compliance with its permit with the Department of Environmental Management. Fredericks said the plant should be operational by October 2014.
Fredericks underscored the importance of community outreach, adding, “We can’t do too much of a good job.”
He spoke of the understanding with the city and how, by the next meeting, he intends to provide a rundown of exactly what has been done and what remains to be accomplished. The agreement with the City Council lifted legal action that would have delayed, and possibly stopped the project, in exchange for a number of benefits, including relocation of the playing fields and timely notification and acquisition of private properties affected.
“We as an airport have to be good partners,” he said. “We don’t have all the answers, we need your input.”
Ward 3 Councilwoman Vella-Wilkinson was looking for an update on returning surplus airport property to city tax rolls. Fredericks said that is “high on our radar.” Also, he said RIAC would look at gaining revenues for the city in lieu of taxes.
He said it is important to ensure that “what’s good for the airport is good for the city.”
Fredericks assured Superintendent Richard D’Agostino that he would get a count on the number of students affected by the voluntary home acquisition program and houses taken by the relocation of Main Avenue.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said having department directors and elected officials “all together” to hear the progress report and gain information is helpful in delivering a consistent message.
Fredericks called RIAC “very much a development organization.”
While the Interlink has been slow in terms of generating rail traffic to Green, he believes it will have a significant role in the future, especially if it gets regular Amtrak service. More immediately, he sees growth coming from the north.
“We’re going to pick on Logan quite a lot,” he vowed.