Mayor Toni Harp voiced renewed support for Tweed-New Haven Regional Airport’s appeal to remove a state statute limiting the length of its main runway.
The state law, passed in 2009, limits the runway to its current length of 5,600 feet. New Haven and the Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority attempted unsuccessfully to overturn the statute at the trial level last October, appealing that decision in federal court. Meanwhile, there are ongoing efforts in the General Assembly to remove the restriction so that the runway can be extended to 6,000 feet, with 1,000 additional feet to the southern safety zone and 600 to the north. With a longer runway, Tweed would be able to attract new carriers and add destinations in Washington, Chicago and Florida.
“It’s been 10 years since the statute was passed,” said Tim Larson, executive director of the Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority. “Think about how the iPhone changed during that period. Safety and performance in the entire aviation industry are different now.”
According to Larson, the industry’s focus on devising more fuel-efficient engines resulted in smaller motors that provide less thrust, necessitating a longer runway for takeoff. The national de-facto minimum runway length has since been set to 6,000 feet, the runway length required for the popular aircraft Boeing 737.
Tweed Airport’s appeal is also due in part to its “dire financial situations and its need to survive” according to state Rep. James Albis, FES ’16, D-East Haven. In 2009, there were 21 legacy carriers serving the airport; now there are only five. With its current runway, the only major airport close enough for Tweed Airport to connect with is Philadelphia International Airport. And state-level budget cuts have limited Connecticut’s ability to lift the airport out of its financial mire.
Tweed Airport has the 12th largest catchment area population in the Northeast. Although over four million residents live closer to Tweed than any other airport, half of the region’s travelers opt for New York or New Jersey airports, leaking precious dollars to neighboring states.
“We’re forcing people to drive hours and hours, when we have our own airport right in the middle of a metropolitan area,” Larson said.
Lengthening the runway is the airport’s chance at a turnaround. New Haven Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81 said it would be a “total game changer.” Customers prioritize reliability in air service above all else, he said, and the new runway would increase the airport’s capacity to provide replacement flights in case of flight cancellations.
Nemerson also said New Haven should focus more on attracting new populations to enter the domestic economy. He emphasized that businesses would be attracted to a revamped airport, especially with Yale in New Haven.
“Any company in the world would want to locate near a tech-agile community with a university like Yale,” Nemerson said. “But only if it’s less than 20 minutes away from a major airport, because these venture capitalists don’t want to drive on a rainy night through a traffic jam to come meet us.”
Nemerson added that the recent relocation of Alexion Pharmaceuticals and General Electric from the area were due partly to a lack of quality air transportation. He also added that while a longer runway would not be the panacea for all of New Haven’s problems, it would at least open grounds for the city to compete with other major cities to attract firms in bio-tech and travel industries, which would “bring the kind of jobs we want.”
But reception in East Haven and the Tweed area has not been as enthusiastic, with residents raising concerns about additional traffic, noise pollution and safety issues. Last February, a plane crashed in East Haven, killing one man and severely injuring another — which Albis described as a scarring memory for many of his constituents.
“The biggest problem is that there is a real lack of trust that has been years in the making between Tweed Airport and the surrounding community,” Albis said.
Tweed-New Haven Airport invited four relevant legislators, including Albis, to a board meeting in January to discuss how to mitigate potential harm to neighboring areas. For the past three years, the airport carried out a sound study that identified 184 houses that would qualify for noise cancellation facilities worth $7 million in total. Each house would receive approximately $40,000 worth of new windows, ceiling installations and air conditioning systems. A complete community benefits package proposal is set to be announced on Wednesday.
But Albis said these efforts were not enough, pointing out that the 184 houses are only a handful in comparison to the actual number of people who would be inconvenienced. His outlook on the proposal passing the General Assembly was less than rosy.
“Unless Tweed Airport comes up with a plan that all four of us are on board with, the chances are quite slim,” Albis said, referring to the four legislators who represent affected areas: Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven; Alphonse Paolillo Jr., D-New Haven; Martin Looney, D-New Haven; and himself.
As co-presidents of the Senate, Looney and Fasano wield significant influence over the agenda and which bills go to the floor for a vote.
Albis said his primary goal is to ensure that residents are comfortable with whatever decision is made. “But the feedback I’m getting is that we’re just not there yet,” he said.
About 30,000 people use Tweed Airport each year.
Nicole Ahn | firstname.lastname@example.org