WARWICK, R.I. — Breeze Airways, the low-cost airline that started flying out of Rhode Island last year, will open a base of operations at Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport next year, officials announced Tuesday at the airport.
Here’s what it will mean for Rhode Island’s flying public, taxpayers, and the economy in general.
What is Breeze Airways?
Based in Utah, the self-described “Seriously Nice” airline was founded by David Neeleman, who also founded JetBlue Airways. It operates out of smaller airports like Green rather than major ones like Logan Airport in Boston, and focuses on underserved routes. Like other low-cost airlines, travelers pay lower fares, while paying for add-ons like bags and seats of their choice. Breeze currently flies from PVD (well, actually Warwick) to five destinations: Norfolk, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; and Pittsburgh.
Flights to Los Angeles and Savannah, Georgia, once planned for this year, have been pushed back to next year — not because of lack of demand, the airline says, but issues in the airplane supply chain. Seasonal flights to Columbus, Ohio, are also expected to return next year, the airline said. A round-trip ticket from Warwick to Pittsburgh later this month, for instance, would set you back $124 at the most basic “Nice” fare, and $224 for a “Nicer” fare where you can pick an extra legroom seat and bring a checked and carry-on bag. A weeklong trip to Norfolk in November would set you back $78 round-trip for the “Nice” fare, and $178 for “Nicer.”
So what does having a “base of operations” mean?
A couple of things. Most practically, it means the airline’s planes operate from the airport and the flight crews live in the area. Breeze will eventually keep up to eight planes at Green, where they’ll undergo maintenance and repair. Most will be the Airbus A-220. Depending on the configuration, that family of planes holds between 100 to 150 passengers, according to Airbus.
But more broadly, it also means Rhode Island-based jobs, up to 250 of them when all is said and done, from pilots to flight attendants to support staff to maintenance, according to the state.
And it will help travelers at Green, too, said Iftikhar Ahmad, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation. Say there are flight delays and the airline needs to bring in a new crew or new plane. They’ll be able to pull from a local workforce of on-call crews, or backup planes if necessary, instead of having to bring in personnel and equipment from somewhere else when things go haywire.
With the move, Breeze will be the first airline with a base of operations at Green, Ahmad said; Norwegian Air, the low-cost European carrier, had a crew based in Rhode Island, but it was a much less extensive operation than the one Breeze is planning, and Norwegian is now no longer even operating in the U.S.
And to people like Gov. Dan McKee, it means getting more people to Rhode Island from across the country, part of what he often touts as his efforts to make Rhode Island a “bucket list” state, or a state you’ve got to go to before you die.
So will it work?
Good question! Rhode Island has had routes and even airlines (like Norwegian) come and go, and like other airports faced a turbulent few years because of COVID-19. But Breeze signaled confidence that it has the sort of business model, leadership and financial strength to make a real commitment to Rhode Island. (Breeze doesn’t fly out of Boston. Rhode Island will be its seventh base.)
Breeze officials say they have big plans for the future: As many as 20 nonstop routes out of Green in the years ahead. Michael Lazarus, a Breeze board member who lives part of the year in Westerly and part of the year in San Francisco, was asked after the news conference whether he’d be taking the Rhode Island to LAX route to the west coast. No, he said, looking even further into the hypothetical future: Rhode Island to San Francisco.
That route doesn’t exist yet, but then again, neither does any west coast flight — until Breeze starts it up next year.
But Jon Savage, the chair of the board of the airport corporation, underscored the challenge in getting people to use Green when he told everyone in the room to get the word out about flying out of Rhode Island.
“If we don’t use it, and we don’t encourage people to use it, we’ll lose it,” Savage said.
Are they getting any help to do it?
Another good question. Yes.
The airline has applied for, and is under consideration for, public taxpayer support as part of its operations and expansion in Rhode Island. That includes an estimated $300,000 annually in qualified jobs tax credits over 10 years, which would reimburse the company with some of the taxes that some of its jobs create (in other words, they don’t get the money until the jobs actually come here). That amounts to about $2 million over two years for ground handling support, and $1.2 million a year over five years for Commerce to market Rhode Island as a destination in the 20 places where Breeze will initiate flights.
That money would flow through the state Commerce Corporation and an affiliated entity, and hasn’t all been fully approved yet, explained Hilary Fagan, president and COO of the Commerce Corporation. The ground handling support and marketing support beyond this year is also subject to more General Assembly approvals.