WARWICK – Breeze Airways is looking to invest more than $160 million in a permanent base at Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport, with overnight aircraft storage, local crews and routes to up to 20 destination cities.
But first, the state needs to sweeten the deal through some combination of marketing services and waiving airline operating costs, said David Neeleman, Breeze Airways founder and CEO.
Neeleman detailed plans to expand Breeze’s presence in Rhode Island during a briefing at the airport Friday. Already, the Utah-based airline known for its discounted fares has made a splash in the Ocean State, announcing five new, nonstop routes in March, the first of which begin later this month.
“This airport is tailor-made for Breeze,” Neeleman said.
A prior lack of nonstop flights forced local passengers to trek to Boston Logan International Airport, adding time and headache to their travels and costing Rhode Island the economic development benefits that come from a robust airport, according to Iftikhar Ahmad, R.I. Airport Corp. president and CEO.
Ahmad expressed support for Breeze’s tentative plans to open a base in Rhode Island – the first permanent airline operation for the Warwick airport in its history.
Details of any kind of agreement have not been finalized, and Neeleman declined to put a number on how much financial help he was looking for from the state. Nevertheless, Ahmad insisted the opportunity was one worth fighting for.
“We have an opportunity here that’s not something that comes around everyday or every year,” he said.
While Neeleman sees Rhode Island as a good fit for Breeze’s model – and budget – the numbers need to work for him to follow through.
“We don’t want subsidies,” he said of the fee waivers and marketing services he wants the state to offer. “Air service is a factor in economic development.”
Matthew Sheaff, a spokesman for Gov. Daniel J. McKee’s office, said in an emailed response on Friday that the state was “committed” to destination marketing of Breeze’s new routes.
“We look forward to continuing our dialogue with the airline about even more opportunities in the future,” Sheaff said.
If a deal goes through, Green would become the sixth base for Breeze, which has established similar operations in its home of Provo, Utah, as well as Charleston, S.C.; Tampa, Fla.; Norfolk, Va.; and Hartford, Conn. Like its other bases, Breeze would house up to four aircrafts out of Rhode Island – an investment valued at $40 million apiece – along with crews and operational staff.
Neeelman declined to say which other cities might be added as destinations out of Green, but that any of Breeze’s 30 existing airports are possible.
As for international travel, Neeleman wasn’t ruling that out either, although any overseas routes will need at least a year to launch due to federal certification requirements.
Already, Breeze has seen success in its Rhode Island presence, both through the initial three routes launched in 2021 and in sales for the soon-to-debut routes, including to Los Angeles International Airport, which was the top-seller, according to Neeleman.
The airline has pushed back the start of another new route to Jacksonville, Florida amid delays in Federal Aviation Administration certifications needed for its new Airbus A220-300 aircrafts. The nonstop flights, originally supposed to launch May 27, will now begin a month later, with all customers affected offered refunds or credits, according to Neeleman. He did not anticipate the federal certification delay would impact other flights out of Providence.
The eight Rhode Island routes offered by Breeze are among 34 total nonstop flights out of Green, which also includes several new destinations from Frontier Airlines.
(Update: comments from McKee’s office added in 11th and 12th paragraphs)
Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at Lavin@PBN.com.
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