Today the New Haven Board of Aldermen will vote on Mayor DeStefano’s amended general fund budget, which includes a $900,000 allocation for the Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport.
The sum would be a substantial appropriation, but this is exactly what makes it so important. The allocation of nearly $1 million would demonstrate that the city is serious about investing in an airport that could better serve the needs of student and business travellers and ensure the city’s future economic success.
It would be fair to say that Tweed has fallen upon hard times. The airport once got much more use, with as many as 150,000 passengers boarding flights there in a single year. Last year only 22,000 passengers did so, and the airport currently offers only four commercial flights daily, to Philadelphia on US Airways. Over the past year, the city has looked at ways to try to restore some of Tweed’s former glory. A deal with Delta looked promising, but the airline pulled out last spring, citing the unstable economy. The city has said it is once again negotiating with Delta, as well as other unnamed airlines, in an effort to increase service at Tweed. But any potential expansion is contingent upon raising the necessary funds, and on the approval of DeStefano’s proposed $900,000 in funding for the airport’s operation over the next year.
Some aldermen have, in past weeks, expressed concern that the money DeStefano is allocating for the airport could be better spent on other city programs and initiatives. Of course, there are many programs and services in the city that could use nearly $1 million in funding, but it would be a shame to understate the importance of Tweed. An airport — and one with the potential to become more practical than Tweed currently is — can only aid the city and its revitalization. An airport is essential for the city’s economic growth and the health of its important industrial sectors — health care, the biological sciences and education. New Haven and its service economy cannot be expected to flourish if the city is not accessible; an airport is vital if the city is to remain economically competitive.
And, once again, what’s good for New Haven proves to be good for students. It seems that one of the concerns about appropriating such a large sum to finance the airport is whether it is used enough to merit the expenditure. But if the airport and its services were expanded, use — at least among students — would certainly increase substantially. We dream of the day when a 4 a.m. Connecticut Limo ride to LaGuardia is a thing of the past. In looking for an airport that would serve our needs as students, we would like to see more choice in airlines and more competitive fares. Most importantly, though, we want to see more destinations added to Tweed’s service. We recognize that Tweed is a small airport that may never offer extensive national service, but even adding flights to just a few important hubs — like Cincinnati or Washington, D.C., two locations some have suggested might become future destinations for flights out of Tweed — would allow students to connect to many other airports and travel between New Haven and the rest of the country with ease.
It would be shortsighted not to recognize the importance of assuring Tweed’s survival. DeStefano’s proposed $900,000 is a substantial expenditure, but a necessary one. It is vital for the long-term success of the city, and the alternative of a New Haven with a struggling airport — or potentially no airport at all — is a bleak possibility indeed.