Cape Air flights to T.F. Green may not begin this year
Despite a $900,000 guarantee from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), an expected scheduled air service between Block Island and T.F. Green Airport in Providence is still in the planning process.
Last August, the DOT awarded a grant to the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, its partners Cape Air and the Puerto Rico tourism board. In part, this money will go to providing a Cape Air summer air service between Block Island and T.F. Green.
The Block Island service was planned for May to October. Flights were predicted to take about 28 minutes and cost $60 to $80 each way. There would be four daily round trips on average. In the winter season, scheduled flights will run between two islands in Puerto Rico.
But the service may not get off the ground this year.
“Our initial thought was to have the service starting in summer of 2013, but as you can imagine, we are approaching this process very diligently and deliberately,” Trish Lorino, Cape Air managing director of marketing and public relations, wrote in an email.
“Our service into Block Island is contingent upon securing a new (different) aircraft. That process is still ongoing. We will likely not be serving Block Island until next year,” Lorino wrote.
The bulk of Cape Air’s current fleet consists of Cessna 402Cs, which are too large to land on the short Block Island and Puerto Rican airstrips.
Cape Air is still looking at options, explained Lorino, and has approached several different manufacturers about an aircraft that would be suitable.
When the grant was awarded to RIAC, with Cape Air as the designated airline, Westerly-based New England Airlines filed a letter of opposition to it, particularly the process by which the grant was awarded.
New England Airlines runs a scheduled service year-round between Block Island and Westerly with its fleet of Britten-Norman Islanders.
Company owner Bill Bendokas told the Times last June that he had been alerted about the grant application in late May and was given only until June 7 to respond.
“New England Airlines would of course also be interested in establishing a Providence service,” Bendokas had said last June, “but it is past the point when we could participate on a level playing field.”
When contacted this week by the Times, Bendokas offered no comments on the possible service delay until 2014.
The grant money amounts to a two-year revenue guarantee, meaning that up to $900,000 would be tapped if the new service loses money. The money would return to the DOT if the service meets or exceeds revenue expectations.
Lorino said that the revenue guarantee wouldn’t go into effect until Cape Air begins service.
The DOT awarded 33 grants nationwide totaling more than $13.9 million through its Small Community Air Service Development Program.