First On 10: SATA returns to RI, offer flights from Providence to Azores

SATA expands to Providence (photo. Luc Verkuringen)

SATA International Azores Airlines will return to the Providence market beginning on June 30, NBC 10 News has learned. SATA, which offered flights out of Providence but then stopped flying out of Rhode Island in 2010, will offer service out of Providence again beginning in a few months.

The international airline, which currently flies out of Boston's Logan Airport to Lisbon, Portugal and Ponta Delgada, Azores will offer one flight out of T.F. Green Airport in Warwick per week for a total of 10 weeks beginning on June 30, 2016, according to Azores Express, which has been operating charter flights between the U.S. and the Azores since 1985. SATA International, which has been operating on that route since 2000, will use its Airbus A310, which holds 230 passengers.

Lucia Miguel-Botelho, assistant manager, of Azores Express in Fall River, Mass. said the plan is to have one flight from Providence to Ponta Delgada once a week from June until September, then will increase the number of flights to two per week.

CEO Paul Menezes, said SATA is considering expanding its services from Providence into 2017, according to BTL, a Portuguese Tourism event organization. Menezes said it has strengthened its operation in Boston, which has more than 38 percent of the seats offered in 2016 than in 2015.

"We are so happy here," Botelho said in her native Portuguese. "People are so excited and have already called and stopped in to ask about the news."

The additional flights will be great for many of Azores Express clients and residents in general who live in Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, according to Botelho.

Prior to the announcement, passengers would travel to Boston to take one of SATA's four flights to Azores, now they won't have to travel as far, Botelho said.

Liberal Batista, owner of Piques Travel Agency in Cambridge, Mass., said the expansion will not hurt business because rates are very competitive. Batista said he's thrilled with the news.

"This will be great for the people of Southeastern Massachusetts," Batista said.

Edward DeMelo, owner of Columbia Travel in Fall River, agreed saying it's a great opportunity for the Portuguese community, but said there are a few issues that made it complicated the first time SATA offered flights out of Providence.

First, he said the situation does not benefit West Coast travelers flying to the Azores from San Francisco and the San Jose area.

For those travelers there's a direct flight from the West Coast to Boston then off to Azores, but if they try to fly out of Providence they will have to take a connector flight into Phoenix before reaching Providence.

"A lot of carriers don't want to fly out of Providence because it's not a major hub," DeMelo said.

It is not yet clear whether passengers, who have already booked flights to the Azores this summer, will be allowed to switch those flights to Providence, according to DeMelo. One thing that is pretty certain is that SATA often caves under pressure from passengers and the media, according to DeMelo. "You have to remember, SATA is run by the Portuguese government so if there's a lot of pressure to allow it, the government will pressure SATA to change it.

The move comes after TAP Portugal said it will begin daily, nonstop flights between Lisbon and Boston as of June 11, 2016. The move also comes just one month after ASL Airlines France, a division of ASL Aviation Group Ltd., filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation, for authority to fly its Boeing 737-700 aircrafts between Charles de Gaulle airport in France and T.F. Green Airport in Providence.

In an application obtained by NBC 10 News, ASL Airlines included plans to fly passengers from France to Ireland and then onto Providence beginning in May 2016 and running until September 2016.

Rhode Island Airport Corporation released a press release confirming the expansion.

Peter Frazier, Interim President and CEO of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC), that manages and operates Green Airport, said, "We are pleased to welcome the return of service to the Azores and expect this will be great news to our passengers who find it more convenient to fly from Green. When this service was suspended as a result of consolidation some years ago, our customers voiced concern with the loss of this popular route. We are happy to once again provide flights to one of our top requested international destinations."

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