City debates Tweed overhaul

If you build it, they will come — or at least, that is the justification behind Tweed New Haven Regional Airport’s current runway renovation project, slated for completion in one year.

Yet while airport officials push for the funding necessary to develop the airport infrastructure, members of the Board of Aldermen maintain that the airport will never be financially viable if it continues to be managed by the city. And even after Tweed Airport Authority Executive Director Tim Larson asked for $5 million in state grants last week to finance federally mandated airport regulations, some insist these renovations will not make a difference as long as the airport depends on city subsidies.

Travelers to Tweed may soon benefit from extensive airport renovations, but city officials believe the overhaul should be financed by the state.
Meaghan Barr
Travelers to Tweed may soon benefit from extensive airport renovations, but city officials believe the overhaul should be financed by the state.

It is the story of an airport caught in limbo, too small to provide sufficient service to Connecticut residents yet still guzzling funds from state and city budgets. Community leaders such as Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield said they are skeptical of the airport’s plans.

“We’re stuck with the airport — we can’t get rid of it,” Goldfield said. “There’s no appetite on the board for making big investments in the airport with its current structure.”

It is all or nothing, Goldfield explained. The city cannot shut the airport down because the Federal Aviation Administration mandates that it stay open for homeland security reasons, Goldfield said. So Tweed should either undergo state regulation and expand using state dollars, or it should scale back to accommodate only private planes, Goldfield said. The middle ground — an airport that does not operate at full capacity but still costs the city $550,000 per year — causes the city budget to suffer, he said.

For Larson, Tweed’s livelihood lies in upcoming renovations to the airport’s runway, as well as the removal of tree obstructions in the backyards of homes surrounding the airport.

Four weeks ago, Tweed officials received permission from a U.S. District Court to move forward with these renovations, after a seven-year battle with East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon.

Once these renovations are performed, Larson said, the airport will be free to accommodate more traffic. Currently, the only airline flying out of Tweed is US Airways, which sends two flights to Philadelphia six days per week, he said. Delta pulled out of Tweed in January 2006.

Larson’s plan is for the airport to complete necessary renovations during the recession, so the airport will be updated and ready for increased traffic once the economy recovers.

“By this time next year, we’ll be poised to get back in business,” Larson said in an interview Tuesday. “Hopefully, we’ll have a couple new carriers lined up.”

Larson said airport executives are especially interested in adding flights to Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Tweed Airport currently serves 40,000 enplanements per year, but the airport is looking to bring that number up to 120,000 to 130,000 per year.

Bringing Tweed airport under state management “comes up from time to time,” but the Connecticut Department of Transportation is not currently discussing the issue, DOT Communications Director Judd Everhart said.

Former president of Tweed’s board of directors Douglas Rae, Yale professor of political science and lecturer at the School of Management, said he agrees with Goldfield’s suggestion of handing Tweed over to the state. And becoming a transportation hub is the key to the city’s economic development, he said.

“The two most important things for New Haven is planes and trains, and we need to be all over both of them,” Rae explained. “What makes no sense is to continue in our current agony.”

Tweed’s development is also necessary for Yale, Deputy Vice President of New Haven and State Affairs Mike Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said. The economic growth of the airport will have an especially positive impact on bioscience companies that come to New Haven to work closely with Yale, he said.

US Airways spokesperson Morgan Durrant said the airline currently has no plan to alter its flight arrangement at Tweed in the foreseeable future.

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