Students who fly home from Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport may need to make alternate flight plans in the near future.
Last week, Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed a $38 billion budget to the state legislature that would cut all $570,000 of state funding to independently owned Tweed Airport. If passed, the cut would exacerbate Tweed officials’ budget woes and may cause the airport to return to its old owner, City Hall — a move that could cause the airport to close for good. Although local business executives vigorously support both local and state bailout plans for the ailing airport, the current economic reality is creating an ever-larger budget hole that no one seems to be able to fill.
“If we can find cuts in other places to compensate, I’d be welcome to take [the money] back [to Tweed],” Rell said Tuesday. “But it’s a tough economic time.”
Over recent months, Tweed Airport officials have been struggling to find the funding necessary to keep the airport operating. Last week, the Board of Aldermen failed to vote on a bill that would provide the airport with $160,000 in mid-year support. And the Tweed Airport Authority is currently requesting $1.5 million from the state’s Department of Transportation budget, in addition to the city’s $160,000 allocation.
But in a press conference Tuesday, Rell said she is currently unable to supply any funding to the embattled airport.
“I don’t have a million and a half dollars,” she said, adding that she is unsure whether she has given any funding to the airport in her proposed $1.1-billion deficit mitigation plan.
The Tweed bailout crisis, which has been closely monitored by both state and local agencies over the last few months, has reached a boiling point. As it stands today, Tweed Airport Authority Executive Director Timothy Larson said the airport is the most under-utilized airport in the Northeast, serving only 34,000 passengers last year. But because the airport has the potential to bring countless prospective customers, corporate partners and residents-to-be to the greater New Haven area, local businesses and large employers alike both say they support not only a bailout, but a veritable revitalization.
Larson said he received news that Tweed will receive a $5.8 million dollar grant from the federal government to rebuild taxiways, despite the state’s budget cuts. But that money will not close the gap in the operating budget of the airport.
To help cut costs, Larson explained, the airport has increased parking lot fees, attempted to attract advertisers, and has also cut staff.
“I’m very optimistic that we will be able to get through this year,” he said. “We would hope the $1.5 million could be found in the state Department of Transportation budget.”
In addition to the $160,000 requested from the city, the airport will be seeking a matching amount from private donors. Those totals combined would shore up current budget gaps, said Larson.
The airport requested $800,000, but received $550,000 in fiscal 2009. In that same fiscal year, the state budgeted the airport $570,00. Larson said that because the revenue from the airport is down, the airport cannot be maintained without additional funding.
Indeed, city officials said, the airport’s future is still unclear.
“It will be dependent on government support,” said New Haven Director of Transportation, Traffic & Parking Michael Piscitelli, an avid Tweed supporter. “Both the BOA and the state legislature so far have been hesitant to support us.”
Just last week, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. went up to Hartford to vouch for the necessity of state funds for an operational Tweed Airport. Speaking for the city, Piscitelli said Tuesday he believes the state legislature will approve more funds for Tweed.
But the $160,000 many city officials said they hope to give to Tweed on behalf of the city has been having trouble lifting off.
The aldermanic finance committee passed, without recommendation, the $160,000 allocation to the entire Board of Aldermen. But because Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez had found a technical error, the entire Board voted to table the issue, with the expectation that the Finance Committee will successfully and correctly pass the bill next month.
At the meeting last week, Finance Committee Chairman and Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah said that over the next two months, he hopes to hear more community input on the Tweed bailout.
So far, the business community has responded positively.
Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Rescigno told reporters on Tuesday that New Haven businesses are committed to providing funds to the airport “without hesitancy,” if needed.
“Tweed is not going to shut down,” he said. “It’s to critical to the economy.”
But for now, New Haven, Tweed and Connecticut officials all agreed that there are many organizations that suffer from the airport’s failing. Among them: Yale University.
Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65 and Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 both appear constantly at public support meetings for Tweed. But although the University has donated money to Tweed in the past, it is unclear whether Yale will do so now.
A Yale official suggested the University only supports the airport because it provides a landing space for its business executives and commercial investors.
“It’s a crucial transportation link for us,” the official said.
But Morand maintained that Yale students, faculty members and administrators could benefit from the airport’s proximity to campus.
“We have regularly committed our support for Tweed to the State government,” Morand wrote in an e-mail, “and will continue to join with other stakeholders in pushing for an improved Tweed that brings it back to a level of scheduled service it enjoyed in the past.”
One of only two airports in Connecticut, Tweed provides commuter service through US Airways. Its five flights daily are to and from only one city: Philadelphia.