More than 60 local business leaders met Aug. 20 with US Airways Director of Route Planning Jason Reisinger to discuss ways to increase service at New Haven’s underused Tweed Airport.

In the weeks before the meeting, US Airways had reduced its fares for flights departing from Tweed to make them more competitive with other regional airports. Now business leaders are being called to respond to the lower fares by increasing their use of the airport. If usage increases to a sufficient degree, more flights, more destinations, and even more airline choices may be offered at the airport.

“Never in the last eight years have we seen [US Airways] as responsive to airfares,” said Yale Travel Services Manager Darlene Corgan, who attended the meeting. “Everybody wants Tweed to succeed.”

US Airways, which operates five departures and five arrivals each day on a route to Philadelphia, is the only airline that schedules flights to and from the airport.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has challenged local businesses to increase their usage of the airport. Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Susan Godshall said the current state budget provides $600,000 for Tweed’s operating costs, funding which is contingent on the city’s support for the airport. DeStefano will continue to support the airport if ridership increases, Godshall said.

“We have a significant new political will saying we have to use Tweed and the local private sector needs to step up to the plate,” Godshall said.

Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president of New Haven and State Affairs, also attended the Aug. 20 meeting.

He said the lack of competitiveness in pricing with other area airports has been a major issue. Alexander praised the fair reductions as “significant changes.”

Reisinger said US Airways has made all categories of fares more competitive. Leisure fares from New Haven, booked two to three weeks in advance to the top 20 to 25 destinations, regardless of the point of departure, are now competitive with flights from Hartford. Business fares booked a week in advance to those same destinations cost slightly more than their Hartford counterparts but are competitive when travel time and other costs are factored in, Reisinger said.

Corgan said Tweed handled only 3 to 5 percent of Yale Travel Services’ flights last year. This year, Corgan said, the office is looking to “substantially increase” the percentage.

She said Yale Travel Services is pushing the use of Tweed by, for example, placing a note on their Web site.

“Yale Travel says Tweed as much as possible,” Corgan said.

But Tweed-New Haven Airport manager Rick Lamport is looking for small changes.

At one point, Lamport said, Tweed handled 150,000 emplanements, the number of passengers boarding flights, a year. Now it only administers 22,000. Even if every flight was completely full, Tweed would currently only receive 67,500 emplanements, and it would take about 100,000 annual emplanements for Tweed to break even, Lamport said.

“All we want to do is get back the service we had before,” Lamport said. “It’s nothing this market hasn’t supported in the past.”

Reisinger said increased service to Philadelphia is a possibility for US Airways this spring or summer if ridership increases.

If US Airways finds success at Tweed, other airlines should follow, Lamport said.

Alexander said he believed the airport could eventually accept 25 flights a day to Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., and other major hubs which would allow New Haven business travelers to reach many more destinations than are currently available.