Court backs Tweed expansion

In a decision that may settle a seven-year battle between transportation officials and East Haven neighborhood activists, a federal court ruled Friday that Tweed New Haven Regional Airport can continue with a safety improvement project that will require the airport property to extend further into East Haven.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Janet Hall asserted that federal regulations eclipsed East Haven laws and mandated that community activists permanently desist from “taking any action which would have the effect of stopping, changing, interfering with, or delaying” the airport’s safety improvement project.

Though New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said this expansion will create jobs and tax revenue for the city, East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon maintains that the project infringes on the city’s jurisdiction, reducing quality of life for neighboring residents. She said she will decide in the next few days if East Haven will take further legal action to prevent the airport extension.

The safety improvement project, mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration, requires the extension of airport property 1,000 feet beyond each end of the runway in order to create a buffer zone between the runway and adjacent Dodge Avenue, in case a pilot overshoots or undershoots the runway. The extension of the safety area will allow heavier flights with more passengers and full cargo holds to land in the airport, Tweed attorney Hugh Manke said.

“To us, it’s a no-brainer,” DeStefano said. “This is a safety issue, not a cosmetic issue.”

The expansion of Tweed Airport will be “important to the infrastructure” of the area, especially for companies and organizations involved with Yale, said Bruce Alexander, vice president of New Haven and state affairs and campus development. A well-functioning regional airport would be a vital part of economic development in New Haven and the University, he said.

Though DeStefano said the strengthening of the airport will bring more economic opportunities to the city, Capone Almon said she was not convinced. Tweed has been on “life support” for the last 15 years, and the national financial crisis will not bring any success to the airline industry, she argued. In September, the FFA granted $400,000 to Tweed in order to pay for 95 percent of the airport’s legal fees. At that time, the airport was $235,000 in debt, Tweed Executive Director Tim Larson told the New Haven Board of Aldermen Finance Committee last month.

“With the state cutting back, the City of New Haven has laid people off and continued funding airports,” Capone Almon said, referring to the 34 city employees released by the city last September. “Does Hartford have a booming economy because of Bradley International Airport? Show me the proof of that.”

But, according to Capone Almon, ill-defined economic benefits do not outweigh the inconvenience and impositions placed upon East Haven residents living close to the airport. Connecticut statue protects East Haven and grants municipalities within the state the power to approve or reject expansion plans into city land, she said. In this case, airport authorities have ignored East Haven regulations at the expense of East Haven citizens and for the benefit of big business in New Haven, she said.

“The airport is using this argument of instrumentality to the state in order to circumvent all of our local processes,” Capone Almon said. “That’s what’s maddening — East Haven residents should have a say.”

Capone Almon said she has fielded complaints from residents around the area — even residents from New Haven, she said — who have objected to the noise and traffic caused by the airport.

To compensate for the inconvenience of nearby air traffic, DeStefano promised to provide a $500 tax credit to residents living within 1,500 feet of the airport, as well as noise attenuation systems for residents living within the high-noise zone.

Michael Criscuolo, one of those homeowners, is the head of the East Shore Conservation Association, a 40-year-old organization dedicated to fighting against airport expansion into East Haven. He said he and his neighbors are forced to withstand the constant sound of departing aircrafts, wafting jet fumes and the felling of trees to clear the airways for landing airplanes. The runway safety zone will eventually be paved over, Crisuolo asserted, and will become a longer runway to be used for larger, louder planes.

“If it wasn’t for Yale University wanting this airport,” he said, “I wouldn’t think that anybody would ever use it.”

Construction on the safety improvements at Tweed will begin in a few weeks and take approximately one year to complete, Manke said.

Comments

  • Yale Traveler

    Hopefully this will mean that there will be more airlines, more destinations, and lower fares, because if Tweed is going to continue to serve only Philadelphia and at $700 rt, I'm still using Hartford.

    Considering that the airline industry is in shambles right now, however, the chances of another airline coming here or U.S. Airways flying somewhere other than Philadelphia is slim to none, in which case this is just a huge waste of money and headache for nearby residents. The current planes that fly here are quite small, and I wonder whether they really need the runway expansion.

  • Tweed Fan

    In response to the above post, although Tweed's service is limited to Philadelphia, flights from Tweed to Philly are fast (about an hour), and they allow one to then use Philadelphia International Airport as a means of getting to the rest of the country. Often this is the best option to get around the nation.

    Essentially three options are available for air travelers heading to destinations around the country. First, one may drive or take airport transit to New York, which requires about 1 1/2 hours drive time followed by a very long check-in. The parking fees are also quite expensive. Second, one may drive about 1 hour to Bradley. Bradley is a good airport, but the number of direct flights is limited. Check-in may also be slow. Third, one may drive 10 minutes to Tweed, park inexpensively, and check in quite quickly. The flight to Philly is quick, and repeat check-in is not necessary. The best pay-off for Tweed flights is the return home - after finally landing, a very short ride home is quite pleasant.

    If Tweed were able to re-establish the two destinations it lost in the last 10 years, it would be even better. There was a flight to Chicago that was fast and efficient, and the flight to Washington National (Reagan) was fantastic (especially since so many Yale faculty and administrators have to travel to Washington regularly).

    One last point - flights to Philadelphia are not $700. They are closer to $300 RT. Moreover, the New Haven leg of a multi-leg flight generally costs almost nothing beyond the cost of the cross-country flight.

  • Spherical Cow

    Yale Traveler:

    I think your concerns about the economic ones are valid ones. However, I think it is also true that the economic crisis will not last forever, and wise government plans ahead. Having an airport in place may mean that when the airline industry does turn around, New Haven will be the first to benefit. In the meantime, it means jobs for the construction.

  • ytr

    gimme a break, yale traveler. this is the largest underserved air market in the country by a long shot. if the runway were usable for larger flights, airlines would flock here because the flights would fill up very quickly. they'd cancel flights from other cities , where load factors are lower, if they needed to.

  • The Count

    What will happen is this: All those people who did not give a rat's hind quarters about Tweed will come out of the woodwork to use it once it is modernized, especially should other airlines come in and the ensuing competiton results in a mini-fare war.
    I found it dreadful when, earlier this year, some Yale students took the train to New York and then surface transportation to LaGuardia to travel to New Orleans. We have a great airport here and, with one-and-one-half million people in the Southern Connecitcut area, should have no trouble filling a 100-seat jet plane. Come on Yalies! Follow Mark Volchek's lead and get involved!

  • @#4

    Do you honestly think that the only reason airlines aren't flying to Tweed is because of it's runway length?

    Believe me, I'm sure the airlines are aware of the fact that New Haven is an underserved air market, and with the airline industry in shambles, every airline is looking at every possible option and route to generate revenue. Look at Delta, out of nowhere they just announced a flight to Monrovia, Liberia from Atlanta. If airlines honestly believed they could make a profit flying in and out of Tweed, they would.

    Oh, and it's not a question of load factor, but a question of yield--a flight can be oversold and still lose money if all the passengers are paying bargain basement airfares.

    The fact is that even putting the runway issue aside, Tweed suffers from several detrimental factors, including lack of business traffic, lack of overall demand (why isn't US Airways using anything larger than a Dash 8 to Tweed?), and proximity to Bradley and New York.

    Southwest or JetBlue won't be coming even if the extension is built--the best Tweed could hope for would maybe be a 2 or 3x weekly Allegiant flight to florida, and maybe the resumption of service to DC.

  • Student 09

    The fact that Yale is so hard to get to (from New York, Boston, and the whole country) is one of its serious drawbacks. I wonder how many potential students and faculty we lose every year based on this fact along. The inconvenience, cost, and time of traveling to LGA, JFK, or BDL makes any sort of short weekend trip pretty much unfeasible - just not worth the effort. Princeton and Harvard both have much better connections to great airports. It puts us at a serious disadvantage.

  • Elm City Native

    Airlines are reducing or entirely cutting service to airports the same size or larger than Tweed. The industry has grounded and mothballed jets in the last 6 months that nearly equal SouthWests entire fleet in number. Tweed faces competition from Green, Bradley, White Plains and the New York airports. The market is hardly underserved by a long shot. Even when larger jets did fly into Tweed the business wasn't there to support it. Beyond a few business and special interest groups there is no support for an enlarged Tweed. Add in historical corruption, mismanagement and a host of other problems and you have the makings of another grand waste of taxpayer money. No one used Tweed much twenty years ago, it still hasn't changed.

  • ytr

    The Count, how can we get involved, other than calling the Mayor of East Haven to complain about his anti-jobs policy?

  • Alum

    Tweed is just right.

  • AlexG

    I don't have anything to do with YALE, I just find it difficult to travel all the way to NY or MASS. so I can fly some where.

  • Steve

    In response to the cost to Philly, I don't know where you got that from. It was just $279 round trip New Haven to Denver in August. One airline is very limiting and when the economy rebounds the entire area will benefit when there is a second and third airline again.