A former Eli has taken the reins at Tweed Airport, hoping to lead the airport out of its current slump and make it more attractive to regional travellers.
In an election last Wednesday, Mark Volchek ’00 GRD ’00 was chosen to replace Lawrence DeNardis as the chairman of the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority, a position that DeNardis had held since 2000. Volchek’s arrival comes at a difficult time for the airport, which lost one of its two remaining carriers over the summer and has come into conflict with East Haven politicians over its future plans.
Pan-Am Clipper Connections discontinued service at Tweed in July after a brief trial run at the airport proved to be unpopular, leaving Tweed with just one carrier: U.S. Airways. Pan-Am had provided Tweed with its first flights to the Washington, D.C., area since the 9/11 attacks.
And last week, the airport reached an impasse with the East Haven Town Council over its desire to install “runway safety areas,” which the council thinks are merely “trojan horses” that will eventually lead to an expansion of the airport. That dispute will have to be solved in court.
But DeNardis said his decision to leave his volunteer position had nothing to do with either event.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We have done exceedingly well. It seemed a good time to bow out. Seven years is a long time to hold a volunteer position.”
He said the Pan-Am failure was not entirely unexpected, as it was always seen as an “experiment” of sorts. The airport wanted to see whether or not the low-cost flights would attract customers, but never seriously invested in the carrier.
Volchek, who currently heads Higher One, an organization that provides financial transaction services to universities, acknowledged that he faces a challenge in taking over the chairmanship. He said his role will be to expand the services Tweed offers and to help market the airport to a seemingly disinterested public.
“It’s certainly not an easy task,” he said. “The airport is not used by that many people.”
The election took place at the annual event at which the Airport Authority selects its officers. After DeNardis announced his resignation, Volchek — who was appointed to the Authority a few months ago by Mayor John DeStefano Jr. — was chosen to replace him.
The two are a study in contrasts. DeNardis is almost 70 and has been everything from a U.S. Congressman to the president of the University of New Haven. Volchek, who co-founded the Yale Entrepreneurial Society when he was an undergraduate, is some 40 years younger, and this marks his first foray into public life.
He said he was interested in the Authority because he wanted to take on a project that could make a difference in the New Haven area.
“I believe the airport is really important for economic development in the region,” he said. “There have been some controversial events recently, and my goal is to resolve them quickly and move forward.”
Ward 13 Alderman Alex Rhodeen, whose ward contains Tweed, said the airport needs to move from long-term planning to quicker action.
“Under Larry’s leadership, the airport was able to lay out a long-term vision towards viable goals,” he said. “Now they need to craft a message about the immediate issues, month-to-month.”
He said that Tweed is currently failing to meet the needs of the region.
“There is limited service that clearly doesn’t meet people’s expectations,” he said.
But Rhodeen expressed faith in Volchek and said he is excited to see Volchek take the reins.
Volchek said he wants to see more direct flights from the airport to destinations like Florida and Washington D.C. and to promote the viability of connecting flights for passengers embarking on lengthier trips.
The airport is currently looking for an executive director, who will be a paid employee in charge of Tweed’s expansion and marketing strategy.