On Jan. 8, in front of a packed Mary Brennan board room at the Sundlun Terminal, Brian Davis, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Sun Country Airlines announced two new nonstop routes out of T.F. Green Airport to Nashville and Minneapolis/St. Paul beginning in April.
Both the Nashville and Minneapolis/St. Paul routes will operate four days a week, offering one-way fares as low as $69 to Nashville and $79 to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Sun Country’s fleet consists of 26 Boeing 737-800 models and four 737-700 models.
“We’re proud to add this to our schedule,” Davis said. “Air service is something that works when the community embraces it, and we’re certainly off to a good start.”
Davis also explained that Sun Country’s presence at T.F. Green is not intended to compete with other existing airlines, but to bring new passengers to the airport.
“What we see is an untapped opportunity because of price and convenience,” he said.
Davis’s announcement is part of a larger set that will be occurring across the country and signifies the largest single expansion in the airlines history. They will be entering seven new airports and opening 19 new routes.
The announcement is also one of many that have occurred over the last two years, and top state officials have given the airport’s expansion credit towards Rhode Island’s economic upturn.
Iftikar Ahmad, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Air Corporation, said that since January 2017, the airport has seen the introduction of four new carriers and 12 nonstop destinations.
According to the most current RIAC data, passenger traffic is on the climb. As of September 2018, the airport had seen a total of 3,258, 823 passengers for the year. That number was a 15.05 percent increase for the same period in 2017. In addition, the number of passengers that traveled during September 2018 was 6.37 percent higher than September 2017.
Ahmad also referenced a study completed by the Federal Aviation Administration that looked at the economic impact of individual travelers.
“Every passenger makes an impact of about $631, and per visit to New England, there is $977 that an international passenger spends every stay,” he said.
Community and state officials see the recent investments to the airport’s expansion over the last two years as a key component to the state’s economic upturn. The most noticeable project was the $37.2 million expansion of the runway to 8,700 feet that was completed in December 2017. This was done to accommodate coast-to-coast and international flights.
United States Senator Jack Reed explained that by Sun Country and other airlines choosing T. F. Green as a destination, it is proof that these investments were worth it.
“It’s a sign about what a great airport T.F. Green is, and it is also a validation of the investments we’re making, including upgrades to our runway, and that they are paying for themselves and increasing the economic contribution to the state of Rhode Island,” Reed said. “It’s a signal that Rhode Island is a destination. It’s a destination for businesses, for business travelers, and will be increasingly so in the future.”
Michael McCaffrey, Senate Majority Leader, credited Ahmad and Jonathan Savage, RIAC Board Chair for their hard work. McCaffrey noted that with the introduction of these new airlines and routes, the airport is an economic engine for the state and beyond.
“What Iftikar and Jonathan are doing here at the airport is expanding Rhode Island throughout the entire country,” McCaffrey said.
Stefan Pryor, the state’s secretary of commerce, outlined the lengths both state and community officials took to ensure the introduction of new airlines and routes. Pryor said Governor Gina Raimondo as well as Virgin Pulse, a health technology company located in Providence talked directly to Sun Country over the phone.
Virgin Pulse entered Rhode Island in 2016 when it acquired ShapeUp Inc. According to Pryor, the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation was worried that Virgin Pulse was going to leave Providence, taking jobs with them. Virgin Pulse stayed and expanded from 84 to 254 jobs in the city. Virgin Pulse recently acquired Red Brick, a Minneapolis based company that uses the latest technology to study behavior.
“They got on the phone and talked to Sun Country and talked about that for them, the Minneapolis line makes enormous sense. “We have a growing business community that is looking for opportunities to fly out of T.F. Green in this new era.”
Ahmad credited the state for the airport’s success, as he had worked at five airports before T.F. Green, and has never felt so much support.
“These investments, these expenses, pay for revving up our economy in the restaurant sectors, in hotels, in rental cars, in all of those fields and the jobs associated with them,” he said. “We all work together, and that is the strength of Rhode Island. This is phenomenal. My team, our job is much easier.”
Representative and Speaker pro-tempore Brian Kennedy (Hopkinton and Westerly), pledged support to Sun Country from the Rhode Island General Assembly, and is excited for the new economic opportunities the routes will bring.
“We all pledge our support on behalf of the state legislature,” Kennedy said. “Sun Country’s presence is going to generate increased economic activity for our airport, as well as the nearby hotels, restaurants and shops.”