Waiting for hours on end for Connecticut Limo shuttles from New Haven to Hartford or New York may soon become a distant memory for students, as the underused Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport seeks to expand its services.
The Board of Aldermen will decide whether to approve New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s amended general fund budget allocating $900,000 for Tweed at their Nov. 20 meeting.
New Haven Economic Development Administrator Henry Fernandez said the budget allocation is one step in a process to hopefully expand Tweed’s services, although for now the money is necessary simply to keep the airport in operation. He said the airport is an essential asset to New Haven if the city is to remain competitive in the national and international marketplace.
“In a service economy, you need to get people coming in and out,” Fernandez said. “We have to sustain that — or we will continue to bleed jobs.”
Fernandez said in the past several years the service sector in New Haven has undergone significant growth, providing resources such as biotechnology, health and education, which rely heavily on transportation services.
“Without an airport, it’s hard to see how you’ll succeed,” Fernandez said.
The city has been working with the only airline that serves Tweed — US Airways — to increase passenger usage and lower fares. While Tweed has not historically been competitive with other airports in the region, Fernandez said fares have “lowered drastically” within the past several weeks.
Fernandez said the other component to expansion is to bring in additional airlines.
Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Susan Godshall said airlines require specific financial conditions before establishing new routes.
“The community must give them incentives,” Godshall said.
In April 2003, Delta Airlines dropped out of a deal to begin service at Tweed airport, citing the economy’s unstable condition during the Iraq invasion.
But Fernandez said the city is again starting up negotiations with Delta to provide service at Tweed. He said the city is in the early stages of negotiations with additional airlines as well, but did not give their names.
In order for Delta to come to Tweed, along with the $900,000 fund from the city and an additional $600,000 from the state, the private sector must raise a $1.9 million guarantee to protect the airline should it fail.
Godshall said she is “very confident” that the business community and the Yale community would step in to help in terms of expansion of the airport and the addition of other airlines.
“There is a strong sense both from Yale and other local corporations that air service is important,” Godshall said.
Despite the potential conveniences an expanded airport could provide, some board members are hesitant about approving the budget.
Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt said he will need to carefully examine the facts on the airport’s performance before making a decision but that he has “serious reservations” about approving the funds when there are other projects in need of resources.
“My concern is that we are putting good money into a bad idea,” Voigt said.
Currently about 20,000 passengers fly out of Tweed annually, but Fernandez hopes that with improvements to the airport in the next several years, that number will grow to 120,000.
Tweed currently provides only four daily flights to Philadelphia, from where passengers can connect to other flight destinations.