For some Elm City residents, Tweed-New Haven Airport is not a household name, despite its convenient location 15 minutes from downtown. And for those who do know Tweed, it has often been the subject of confusion over how an airport with a single carrier serving a single destination route could be financially viable. But that’s about to change.
American Airlines has agreed to operate nonstop Saturday flights from Tweed to Charlotte Douglas International Airport beginning Dec. 22, in addition to its existing service to Philadelphia. This will be Tweed’s first route addition since 2006, increasing its destination tally from one to two.
“Charlotte is a gateway to the south and the west,” said New Haven Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81. “It opens you up to a lot of the world.”
Charlotte is American’s second-largest hub, and it will connect New Haven residents to 160 destinations in 25 countries. This includes Florida and the Caribbean, which are the destinations of choice for 20 to 25 percent of 1.4 million travelers in Tweed’s catchment area, according to the airport. In addition, American spokesperson Nichelle Tait said the airline will try out the weekly service to test “how the market responds … and then we’ll see what happens.”
Nemerson said New Haven’s biggest selling point for airlines is the high revenue per mile that Tweed offers. Travelers pay premium to avoid battling traffic to get to a larger airport in New York. Out of four Yalies originally from Charlotte who spoke with the News, all said they were open to the idea of using Tweed to get home.
But some pointed out that for cash-strapped students, premium pricing may still be a deterrent. Chloe Gonzalez ’20 said that while Tweed’s expansion is positive news, if she had to choose between price and convenience, she would choose the former.
Meanwhile, the city is hoping Tweed’s growth will help boost a declining economy.
“We are confident that the addition of this flight, with hopes for others to come, will solidify New Haven’s place as the transportation hub Connecticut needs to bring jobs to area residents,” said Mayor Toni Harp in a release.
Nemerson, however, cautioned against “magical thinking” when it comes to economic impact. He said it was unlikely that the addition of a weekly flight would change anything overnight.
Instead, he emphasized the need to change public perceptions of Tweed. Ever since Tweed discontinued its flights to Chicago in the mid-90s, and subsequently its Washington, D.C. services after the Sept. 11 attacks, the relationship between Connecticut residents and New Haven’s airport has changed dramatically.
“We’re in a rut,” Nemerson said. “People aren’t thinking about Tweed when ordering planes. If the Charlotte route forces us to at least re-consider new options for a possible connection, anything that breaks the routine is helpful.”
Executive Director of Tweed-New Haven Airport Tim Larson hopes the expansion will generate enough consumer interest to negotiate daily flights to Charlotte with American, and even nudge other airlines to entertain the idea of servicing Tweed.
The second part of that plan, however, depends on whether the airport succeeds in convincing the state legislature to allow the length of its runway to increase.
Tweed’s runway is limited by state statute to 5,600 feet, which by modern aviation standards is too short for most airlines. Charlotte is one of few major airports that Tweed can accommodate with its current runway.
If Tweed wishes to promote long-term growth into a true transportation hub, it must overturn this legislation and extend the runway to accommodate longer flights. Florida, Chicago and Washington, D.C are all on the radar as future connections, according to Larson. But responses have been mixed, as legislators representing the Tweed area have raised concerns about congestion and noise pollution that might result if the airport expands.
Nemerson predicted that the airport’s best bet will be to focus on collecting data that might help Tweed negotiate more deals given its current runway limitations. More flights mean more data, which could help Tweed authorities persuade American to switch aircrafts from other underperforming areas to Tweed.
“It won’t have a magical impact on New Haven, but having connections to Charlotte will help us in the long run, and we’ll do whatever we can to make the service successful,” Nemerson said.
Tweed is one of two airports in Connecticut with regular commercial service, along with Bradley International Airport.
Nicole Ahn | firstname.lastname@example.org