A mere two weeks after it was learned that Cape Air would not return to Block Island for the summer of 2016, Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) reached out to New England Airlines to re-establish the Block Island to T.F. Green route that Cape Air established in 2014. New England Airlines has been serving Block Island residents and visitors since 1970.
Patti Goldstein, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for RIAC, said on Monday, Jan. 25, that RIAC “staff did reach out to New England Airlines” for just that reason.
Bill Bendokas, who founded New England Airlines with his wife Lois, said RIAC “did call me at the end of last week” — meaning the week ending Jan. 22.
Bendokas said the federal Small Community Air Services Development Program (SCASDP) grant, which provided Cape Air with $900,000 to start the route back in 2012, has been “extended for another year (to 2017). The grant was supposed to be expiring this past week, and there were some funds remaining,” said Bendokas.
Goldstein confirmed that the SCASDP grant had been extended until Jan. 13, 2017.
Bendokas said that while he was interested in the idea, “It’s a lot more than flicking a switch,” he said. “The idea has been presented to me and that’s all I can say right now. I have to get more information from RIAC.”
Bendokas said that if Cape Air was still dipping into the grant money two years after it began flights between the island and T.F. Green, it could mean the route was not all that profitable. “If after two years there was significant grant input, that could indicate the viability of the route,” Bendokas said. “And to decide whether to pursue it.”
Goldstein also elaborated on issues surrounding Cape Air’s departure from Block Island and the $900,000 SCASDP grant that was awarded the airline back in 2012.
Cape Air was chosen as the airline of choice for RIAC, Goldstein said, because “Cape Air was the only airline at that point in time that showed a strong desire to provide this service and also had the operational ability (established at PVD, approved security clearances and procedures from the airport and the Federal Transportation Security Administration, baggage and passenger transfer capabilities with most of the other airlines at PVD, etc.) to do so. Cape Air also brought a significant financial commitment in the form of an investment in new aircraft and marketing dollars to promote the new service.” PVD is the Federal Aviation Administration’s code for T.F. Green Memorial State Airport.
Goldstein said that the grant money Cape Air received “was distributed on a monthly, as-needed basis. The type of grant received from the U.S. Department of Transportation is known as a revenue guarantee, which means the funds are only distributed when the airline is unable to meet a specific revenue threshold based on operating costs during that month.”
When asked if Cape Air needed to meet any specific goals during the life of the grant, such as serving a minimum number of customers or running the route for a minimum period of time, Goldstein said “Cape Air agreed to provide service for a two-year period that expired on Jan. 15, 2016. They also agreed to acquire the necessary aircraft to operate at Block Island, as well as expending marketing money to promote the service.”
Goldstein pointed out that “no Rhode Island state taxpayer dollars were expended” on this project, and that monies from the grant are “only drawn upon if certain requirements are met. It is paid monthly based on revenues generated by the flight. Please also note that the grant covers two destinations — Block Island and Culebra, Puerto Rico. As such, the grant value is apportioned between the two destinations. Cape Air will be continuing its service in Culebra under this grant. The grant is still available for another air carrier who is willing to serve Block Island from Green Airport.”
Cape Air will also no longer have a presence at T.F. Green.
When asked if RIAC felt that it had received a fair return on the $900,000 investment of taxpayer dollars, Goldstein said (all questions were asked and answered by email): “RIAC highly values our relationships with all of our business partners. The air carriers providing service to our airports are among the most important since they drive so many other business opportunities. Cape Air has been such a partner for 20 years,” Goldstein said. “Since these grants are part of a competitive process from across the country, our region benefitted from being a recipient. Had these limited funds not been granted for Block Island and Culebra, Puerto Rico services, they would have gone to other geographic regions.”
During the two years of service, Goldstein said, Cape Air drew only a portion of the full grant amount, which includes both the Block Island and Culebra, PR services.
“Block Island benefited from this program, as over 4,000 passengers used the service from Green Airport during this time period,” she said. “Cape Air’s decision to stop this service notwithstanding the revenue support from the grant demonstrates how difficult it is to maintain scheduled air service to small markets. Given the opportunity, we would apply again to the federal government for this type of program.”
As Bendokas considers the outreach from RIAC, Goldstein said that RIAC was “absolutely” interested in re-establishing the route.
“Scheduled air service between Block Island and Providence provides a seamless means to connect both island residents and visitors to the global aviation network. T.F. Green Airport also offers a convenient means to connect Block Island passengers to RIPTA, MBTA Commuter Rail, and scheduled motor coach service throughout Rhode Island and New England,” Goldstein said. “This connectivity improves and enhances the ability for visitors to experience the many beautiful and amazing things Block Island has to offer and is an asset to the tourism efforts that help make the island’s economy what it is.”
Original article can be found here: http://www.blockislandtimes.com