As many as 10 airlines have expressed interest in offering jet service at Tweed-New Haven Airport, but the carriers would need Tweed to provide a longer runway.
The Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority will likely approve a 600-foot runway extension on Feb. 20 as part of a 20-year master plan for the airport.
“I expect that the Airport Authority will approve some form of the master plan,” said Edwin Van Selden, the chairman of the 14-member authority.
But the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection appears hesitant to approve the longer airstrip.
Marcia Munro, a member of the authority, said that a letter sent last month from the DEP to Edwards & Kelsey, the authority’s consulting firm, expressed concern that increased development would affect tidal wetlands. According to the letter, the master plan would destroy 32 acres of coastal wetlands protected under state law.
“There’s no way to know how many acres would be affected in the end,” Munro said. “But the DEP could still approve the project.”
DEP officials could not be reached for comment Monday. Munro said the authority approved public presentation of the current master plan draft by an 8-0 vote on Jan. 9.
Van Selden said that between eight and 10 airlines are candidates for operating jet service from New Haven to major hubs such as Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, Detroit, Orlando and Pittsburgh. Tweed has not offered jet service since 1994, when United Airlines left the Elm City after operating there for six years.
“There is distinct interest by these airlines to come to New Haven,” Van Selden said. “Airlines know there is a very large, unserved market here. And they know if they wait, we won’t have room for them.”
Airport authority officials said New Haven will only have capacity for three or four airlines.
Tweed now has a 5,600-foot runway. The authority currently has a permit application pending with the DEP that would create 1,000-foot unpaved safety areas on both ends of the runway. The latest draft of the master plan calls for paving the safety areas in the future, in addition to a 600-foot extension.
The improvements would provide 7,200 feet for takeoffs and 6,200 feet for landings, according to the draft’s documentation.
Federal Aviation Authority officials recently approved the plan for unpaved safety areas.
The airport authority selected the master plan draft after deciding against more ambitious options that would have extended the runway by 2,000 feet and harmed many more acres of tidal wetlands.
But airport authority officials stress that they do not hope to create another Bradley Airport. Bradley handles approximately 300 flights daily, Van Selden said. Tweed’s long-term goal is 30 flights a day.
“We view the other airports around us as long-haul airports, and ourselves as a commuter airport,” Van Selden said.
Installing the unpaved safety areas would take three years, Van Selden said. Upgrades to the airport’s navigation aids would last two years, and then, if approved, the safety areas could be paved.
If the authority approves the master plan on Feb. 20, further authorization will still be required from state agencies, the FAA, the city of New Haven and the South Central Regional Council of Governments.
But Van Selden does not expect approval to be a problem.
“That’s more paper exercise than anything else,” Van Selden said.