A large crowd of media, local and state politicians and curious onlookers descended onto Airport Road on Wednesday afternoon to bear witness to the official inaugural sendoff of the New England Patriots’ brand new personalized aircraft, one of which will be permanently housed, serviced and flown out of TF Green Airport in Warwick.
“Today is the beginning of a wonderful partnership between the New England Patriots and TF Green Airport, and we could not think of a better brand or organization to partner with,” said Iftikhar Ahmad, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation. “There is no better way to welcome our passengers to Rhode Island than to have them see this beautiful red, white and blue 767 sitting on the airfield as they taxi to their gate.”
Ahmad said that the Patriots could have parked the plane at Quonset Airport in North Kingstown, where the second reserve plane currently resides, which would have cost the team about $220,000 annually. Instead, the two sides worked out a deal to house the plane at Green, free of charge, in exchange for Green to be able to call itself the official airport of the New England Patriots.
“We are still working out the promotional aspects of this relationship, but we are looking forward to in-stadium signage at Gillette Stadium and additional advertising and promotional opportunities for our Rhode Island-based Patriots fans,” said Ahmad. “The airport will also generate revenue when the planes are used for non-team flights. This is a win-win situation for everyone.”
New England Patriots and Kraft Group president Jonathan Kraft gave remarks at the event, praising Governor Gina Raimondo for having good economic vision and understanding the importance of regional airports in New England.
“She understands that New England is not like other parts of the country. We're a regional economy,” Kraft said. “This runway expansion, I can tell you that at the Kraft Group we did business in 95 countries in the world last year, we have offices all over the world, and we need more flight capacity to Europe, to Asia, to South America. And now, with the runway expansion here and the great convenience of this airport, it's all going to be possible.”
A theme in statements throughout the event was touting the convenient accessibility of TF Green, especially compared to the congested center of Logan Airport in Boston.
“The message we want to send to Southern New England travelers is that the Patriots have chosen TF Green for our convenience, accessibility and efficiency, and so should you,” Ahmad said in his opening statement.
Kraft said that players, coaching staff and team trainers will appreciate being able to have a consistent home base for air travel, as it will remove various variable associated with flying on commercial jets. He also said that Coach Bill Belichick would appreciate the convenience specific to TF Green.
“This part of the airport, being able to drive up very quickly and get on the airplane, for him, is all that matters,” said Kraft.
Raimondo praised the passion and enthusiasm of Patriots fans, dozens of whom flocked to the outskirts of the former TF Green airport terminal to catch a glimpse of the unique plane, which includes the team logo and five Lombardi Trophies on the tailfin.
“It's good coverage and marketing for Rhode Island. Plus we're the biggest Patriots fans on the planet so we're proud to host them here,” she said. “It's good for Rhode Islanders to be part of what the Patriots have going on and I know they're going to be warmly received here. When the players are here they're going to be happy to be here and Rhode Islanders are going to welcome them.”
While an eye should be kept on what promotional opportunities do arise out of the partnership, and how much business truly comes to Rhode Island in the coming years as a result of this deal, Ahmad was confident that TF Green – which has added four new airlines and 16 new direct flights in the past year – would have been foolish not to take the opportunity to work with the Patriots.
“We wanted to compete and now we can say we're the official airport and now we can give people the top of mind presence for the service that we have now,” Ahmad said, adding that the airport may potentially be able to collect additional funds through passenger facility charges should the plane be used for purposes besides transporting the team. “I'm quite sure that we got the better end of the deal.”
Kraft seemed happy with the deal too, as he said that his father often claimed that Rhode Island fans were the best Patriots fans, per capita, in their passion and enthusiasm for the team.
“For us, we're very proud of our New England heritage, so to be visible at one of the two real gateway airports 365 days a year, that's exciting as a New England business,” he said. “We're proud of our relationship with the state of Rhode Island and our other businesses.”
Of course, in all of the excitement, somebody had to sneak a football pun in at some point. It was Kraft who delivered.
“This is a championship moment for us and our aviation team,” he said.