As negotiations between Delta Airlines and city officials progress, the first jet service to fly out of Tweed-New Haven Airport since 1996 should begin sometime this spring.

Bruce Alexander, vice president of Yale’s Office of New Haven State and Affairs and a leader in fundraising from the business community for a guarantee, said the details of a plan with Delta were being finalized, and the airline should be providing nonstop service to Cincinnati by June. Although Delta wrote a letter of intent to come to Tweed last December, the deal is not yet official.

Alexander said the business and institutional community in New Haven has raised approximately $1.7 million of the $1.9 million guarantee for Delta, which would maintain the airline in case its services were not profitable at Tweed. An additional $200,000 is being raised for a marketing campaign at the airport to support its only current airline, US Airways. Until the guarantee is raised, the city will provide only $450,000 of the $900,000 it allocated towards the operating costs to keep the airport open.

Despite an earlier request this week by New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. for the South Central Regional Council of Governments to withhold a $100,000 contribution towards the support of Tweed, Alexander said the mayor’s decision was reasonable given previous agreements between the city and the business community.

“This division of labor is a fair one,” Alexander said. “We’ll be able to raise the funds for Delta with the business and institutional community — the city and state are keeping up their end of the bargain.”

Airport Manager Rick Lamport said since August, when Tweed began reducing airfares to remain competitive with Bradley Airport in Hartford, the performance of US Airways has steadily been increasing. He said while January is usually a poor month for the airline industry, Tweed has seen considerably more passengers this January than in January 2003.

“The University community should give US Airways and Tweed a try again because fares are much more competitive than they were six months ago,” Alexander said.

Lamport said in addition to luring Delta and other airlines to Tweed, he would also like to expand and develop the airport space. The Connecticut Department of Transportation has improved a master plan for new developments, including the relocation of some roads and the addition of some runway space.

“This will expand and enhance this airport in a reasonable manner — we’re not just going to build a huge airport,” Lamport said.

Lamport said in 2001, the New Haven market — which includes a 20-mile radius from the center of the city — produced over 4.5 million passengers, but Tweed only captured a small fraction of that market.

“That shows you the size of the market — there’s so much business that we’re losing,” Lamport said.

Susan Godshall, senior vice president at the Chamber of Commerce and administrative director for the Airport Authority, said the existence of the airport in New Haven was essential for the city’s economic competitiveness.

“Cities without airports are ruled out for new businesses or relocations of any kind in this day in age. Without the airport we wouldn’t even be in consideration,” Godshall said.

Godshall said she is hopeful Delta will come to Tweed, and that she has seen an increase in business activity centered around the airport. She said both the New Haven Register and SBC Communications will be involved in an extensive marketing campaign for the airport, and that in the next few weeks, operations teams from Delta will be looking over security and other features at Tweed.

Alexander said there is a possibility other airlines in addition to Delta will be servicing Tweed in the future, but that negotiations are still in the preliminary stages.