Grant to help Tweed add flights

After years of flying to only Philadelphia, Tweed New Haven Airport is poised to offer flights to Washington, D.C., Detroit and, if all goes well, Orlando, airport officials said, but they do not know when the expanded flight options could be available.

The Federal Aviation Administration last Thursday announced an approximately $3.7 million grant to Tweed to repair and improve its primary runway, which will make it easier for larger planes to land at the airport, said State Rep. Timothy Larson, Tweed’s executive director. Though US Airways is currently the only carrier operating out of Tweed and its five flights per day go to and from only one city (Philadelphia), Tweed officials said runway renovations will make it easier for the airport to attract major airlines that will offer service to more cities. The officials said they are talking with a number of airlines but could not specify which because the negotiations are ongoing.

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“We’re continuing with the airlines that operate out of small airports,” said Mark Volchek ’00 GRD ’00, chairman of the Tweed Airport Authority. “Economic conditions over the last 24 months haven’t been favorable.”

Still, Volchek said, Tweed hopes to welcome two to three new airlines when the economy recovers.

The renovations will increase the amount of usable runway at Tweed by 350 feet, Larson said.

Over the past year, Tweed’s board of directors has met with 14 airlines at two separate meetings, he said, declining to say which airlines have expressed interest to avoid compromising ongoing negotiations. Last month, airport manager Lori Hoffman met with six potentially interested airlines.

“We have our lines in the water, and are ready to reel [the airlines] in,” Larson said. “But the market is too volatile, particularly in what we’re calling a recession, for them to make a quick decision.”

Volchek said a timeline for when a new airline will arrive depends on the airline industry and when the airline that is selected decides to add new routes. Currently, he said, fluctuating oil prices and regulatory hurdles make it hard to predict when a new airline might arrive.

Even if an airline were to make Tweed an offer tomorrow, it would take between four and five months for the airport to offer new flights, Larson said.

In addition to elongating the runway, Larson said, Tweed will use the FAA grant funds to repair runway light fixtures, install a more efficient water drainage system and add airplane signal lights along the runway, among other projects.

Early this year Tweed completed a $26 million expansion of its safety zones — a system of concrete blocks at the end of the runway that collapse under the weight of an airplane to bring it to a safe stop in case of an emergency.

“Any improvements we’ve been doing over the last two years make [Tweed] more attractive to commercial airlines and general aviation services, make it easy and convenient and safe to come into New Haven directly,” Volchek said.

East Haven Mayor April Capone Almon and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. in March 2009 put aside their differences and pledged to work together toward a revitalized Tweed. For years, Capone Almon, whose town encompasses the airport, had maintained that East Haven residents’ quality of life would be reduced if Tweed expanded.

Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Anthony Rescigno and Volchek have said a renovated Tweed will stimulate New Haven’s economy. The airport will also benefit the Yale community, University officials have said: Tweed would provide another means of transportation for students, in addition to some landing space for the city’s traveling business executives and commercial investors.

Tweed’s runway was last renovated in 1969.

Bradley International Airport in Hartford and Waterbury-Oxford Airport in Oxford, Conn., will receive $2.5 million and $4.85 million from the FAA for improvement projects, respectively.

Correction: April 8, 2010

Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article misattributed the quote, “We have our lines in the water, and are ready to reel [the airlines] in. But the market is too volatile, particularly in what we’re calling a recession, for them to make a quick decision.” It was said by State Rep. Timothy Larson, not Mark Volchek ’00 GRD ’00.

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