The roar of jet engines could return to Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport.
In a meeting in the former terminal building, built in the 1930s, the airport’s Technical Advisory Committee examined three preliminary possibilities for Tweed’s new master plan Thursday night. The most ambitious proposal calls for lengthening the main runway from 5,600 to 6,200 feet, which could increase major carriers’ attraction to Tweed and thus the potential for service to major hubs.
“We are at the point tonight where the committee is screening the alternatives, leading up to the selection of the preferred one,” said Edwin Van Selden, the chairman of Tweed’s airport authority.
The advisory committee eliminated preliminary alternatives B and C at its last meeting in June, primarily because of environmental concerns. Three derivatives of preliminary alternative A are now in the midst of the screening process.
Alternative A-1 would maintain the current takeoff and landing distances of 5,600 feet. Alternative A-2 would increase the takeoff distance to 6,600 feet, and alternative A-3 would increase the takeoff distance to 7,200 feet and the landing distance to 6,200 feet. The second and third proposals would remove obstructions at the end of the runway to increase the official takeoff distance beyond the length of the runway.
East Haven homes and legally protected tidal wetlands located in the proposed expansion lane could limit future airport expansion. Relocation of roads and the acquisition of nearby homes would be necessary to implement any significant runway lengthening.
“We have a very constrained airport,” Van Selden said. “Hopefully, we can put something together that is good for both the airport and the surrounding neighborhood.”
The plans project that alternative A-3 could pump over $300 million into the region annually while costing just $80 million. Comparatively, the $14 million alternative A-1 would contribute $63 million annually.
The airport upgrades could attract major airlines, including American, US Airways, Continental, Delta and United, that use 148-seat Boeing 737 jets. The smaller Bombardier CRJ-200 and Embraer ERJ-145 jets also could fly from Tweed.
But even alternative A-3 would only allow airlines to fill 737s to 67 percent of passenger capacity because of the short length of the runway, which prevents planes from taking off fully loaded. United halted flights in and out of Tweed in 1994 after losing millions of dollars because of the high number of empty seats.
The alternatives would allow planes from Tweed to reach airports located up to 1,000 miles from the Elm City, including Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Orlando.
But the preliminary plans use “declared distances” — the length of open area beyond the actual length of the runway — to specify the distance a plane has to take off, something that may discourage some carriers.
“Using declared distances may not fly with the airlines,” said Jeff Wack, a committee member.
Regardless of what the advisory committee decides, plans for the immediate extension of the main runway’s safety areas have entered the permit stage after the completion of an environmental impact study.
The proposed runway extensions in the preliminary plans could trigger another environmental impact study.
The airport authority will consider comments from the advisory committee and review the three alternatives at its December and January meetings. A final master plan could be completed by the summer.
Once the authority, the Connecticut Department of Transportation, and the Federal Aviation Association approve the master plan, the final phase of implementation can begin.