Wayne Brenckman Jr. ’59 MED ’63 was one of only two people waiting in the lobby of New Haven’s Tweed airport Monday for an afternoon flight to Philadelphia. Outside, two uniformed police officers patrolled the empty parking lot. The world “CANCELED” dominated the flight information board and the counter was devoid of airline agents.
But it wasn’t always like this.
Until Sept. 11, New Haven’s Tweed Airport was the source of six daily flights to the Philadelphia and Washington Reagan-National airports, and daily saw some 200 passengers pass through its gates. The number was set to increase, and airport officials were hoping to add an additional carrier, Midway Airlines, to the current airline roster of one: U.S. Air.
But then the unthinkable terrorist attacks happened Sept. 11. The Federal Aviation Administration closed American airspace and airports, and since their reopening, the airline industry has suffered from a major financial downturn as fewer people find the desire to take to the skies. That reluctance which has spawned a multi-billion dollar bailout package for the airlines has also translated into less business for airports, including Tweed.
Rick Lamport, Tweed’s manager, said New Haven Airport Authority officials have not yet determined how big of a blow the airport has been dealt.
“No one really knows how this is going to fall out,” he said, adding that the airport has lost money on parking and jet fuel revenues, as well as landing fees.
Another setback to the airport’s finances was the bankruptcy announcement of Midway Airlines, which had planned to extend service to Tweed.
“Midway was negotiating with us,” Lamport said. “Now Midway is gone.”
The airport has also had to cancel half of its daily flights because they arrived at and departed from Reagan-National Airport, which remains closed indefinitely because of “national security concerns,” according to the Reagan-National Web site.
But Lamport remained optimistic that the airport will be able to add other airlines in the future. He said service to a small airport is often a good investment for an airline because smaller planes tend to fly at fuller capacity than large airplanes.
“They’re looking after how much money they can bring in per seat.” Lamport said. “We know there is a market [at Tweed].”
Not many people have been using that market in the wake of the hijackings.
Renee Michalosky, a business traveler from Cleveland, arrived at Tweed from Philadelphia Monday on Flight 3363. She said her flight from Cleveland to Philadelphia could have accommodated 96 people but only held 20.
When she traveled on the same flight before Sept. 11, she said the plane was full. Although the hijackings have scared away some of Michalosky’s fellow passengers and she almost almost canceled her trip, she decided the odds were in her favor.
“I figured [another hijacking] wasn’t going to happen right away,” she said.
Brenckman expressed a similar sentiment.
“The chances of my being on the wrong plane at the right time are small,” he said.
He added that his experience as a pilot has also helped allay his concerns about flying. Although Brenckman was flying for business, he said more people are trying to set up meetings via telephone or video conferencing. And he doesn’t mind that.
“It’s getting very easy to fly in and out because the passenger run is way down,” he said.
Some, however, do miss the former bustle of Tweed. Edward Kulenski is a driver for the Easy-One taxi company, based in New Haven. He said he has noticed a steep decline in the number of passengers he can pick up at the airport.
“The work has completely dropped off,” he said.
But Kulenski remains hopeful that the number of travelers will increase soon.
“I’m just going to stick it out,” he said. “You cut here, you cut there. … I’m just going to tighten my belt.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20327″ ]