Tweed-New Haven Airport lost commercial service last November due to record drops in demand during the pandemic. However, on Jan. 6, the airport resumed flights with American Airlines to Philadelphia. Tweed is now planning to finalize a master expansion plan next month — but the partially released plan has already been met with criticism from some New Haven residents and leaders.
American Airlines permanently withdrew service from Tweed on Nov. 12, citing the lack of a congressional funding package for the aviation industry. American had already suspended its flights to Charlotte and Philadelphia earlier in 2020. However, after a new stimulus package was passed in December, the airline moved to resume service from Tweed in January with daily commercial flights to Philadelphia. Tweed Executive Director Sean Scanlon, who is also a state representative of Branford and Guilford, told the News that the airport is glad to resume service for local residents, though he acknowledged that a full recovery could take longer.
“It’s great to have American back,” Scanlon said. “Obviously, the numbers of people who are getting on these flights are very low. But as the virus positivity rates get lower and the number of people vaccinated gets higher, we are optimistic that at some point in 2021… our numbers will go up.”
Prior to the pandemic, Tweed’s total passenger numbers had been growing for several years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 96,000 passengers passed through the airport between January 2019 and January 2020 — up from 77,000 during the same period the year before.
Despite the return of American’s services, Tweed still faces numerous challenges in the months ahead. According to Devin Tichy — former pilot, co-editor of the blog Tweed Facts and owner of Breakwater Aviation — American has restored its 6:20 p.m. departures to Philadelphia. But this flight leaves travelers with virtually no same-day connection options, as most late night flights have been eliminated during the pandemic. Tichy said this could signal that the airline does not hold a long-term interest in Tweed.
“It seems to us that American is, at best, not putting their best foot forward here and worse, might be trying to do their best to squeeze the New Haven market dry,” Tichy wrote in an email to the News.
The December stimulus package also only requires American to remain at Tweed for a total of three months — meaning the airline could choose to leave again as soon as early April. According to Tichy, however, both Allegiant Airlines and the new Breeze Airways have expressed interest in connecting New Haven to leisure markets in Florida.
The airport has long been a source of controversy for the communities that surround it, including Morris Cove and East Haven. Neighbors have opposed the airport’s expansion plans, citing noise pollution, environmental concerns and increased traffic in residential zones. The airport saw the expression of significant resident opposition during a series of expansion meetings and hearings that began in 2015, when officials began proposing expanding the runway by 1,500 feet to make regular service more fiscally viable.
Morris Cove resident Susan Campion has been part of a coalition advocating against airport expansion over the last decade. In an interview with the News, she said communities like hers, as well as those in East Haven, have suffered from Tweed’s negative impacts for too long. These impacts include noise pollution, heavy traffic, high asthma rates and “unbearable fumes.” Her neighbors, she says, have to keep their windows sealed during the summertime and often find marks left by fumes on the sides of their homes.
Furthermore, the coalition argues, past expansions of Tweed’s footprint have destroyed surrounding wetlands and failed to fulfill promises of renewed economic vitality in New Haven — resulting in a large drain on taxpayer dollars. Anger over these long-term issues has been channelled into activism, Campion said.
“It’s an issue of trust and respect,” Campion said. “There has been a trail of broken promises. As we were learning more about the health impacts on our neighbors, the more we became energized to seek evidence.”
Now, the neighborhood coalition is planning on releasing a “Tweed flash report” at the same time as Tweed releases its master expansion plan. The coalition’s flash report will include statistics about economic, health and environmental concerns. Campion and her neighbors plan to make a full-force showing at the expansion update meeting in March.
COVID-19 has also made the airport less of an asset for the city, Campion argued, as many large businesses may adapt to remote capacities even after pandemic ends. Instead of expanding a runway or terminal during these uncertain times, she said, the state could use funds from the upcoming stimulus bill to strengthen rail and bus infrastructure that would connect residents to larger air facilities — such as Bradley and Green Airports in Hartford and Providence.
Climate change is perhaps the most troubling factor in Tweed’s future, Campion said. As environmental groups have often pointed out, the airport’s location makes it susceptible to shoreline flooding and sea-level rise. As Campion pointed out, many maps show that nearly all of Tweed would be submerged underwater in a large weather event. Meanwhile, the aviation industry continues to lead the nation in carbon emissions, accounting for about 3 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions.
Though neighborhood advocates were initially able to defeat legislation that would have removed limits on Tweed’s runways, those limits were successfully overturned in court in July 2019. The airport subsequently began an 18-month master plan process of expanding its runways and other facilities.
Tweed hired consultant McFarland Johnson to study the environmental impacts of this expansion and determine an appropriate runway length. At a public meeting held last month, Tweed officials updated residents on the plan’s progress, presenting options for an additional 1,035 feet of runway and locations for a new or expanded terminal. Scanlon said that Tweed could also see a new entrance on its East Haven side, though he stressed that official decisions have not been finalized.
This proposed entrance could create roadblocks in the expansion, however. East Haven Mayor Joe Carfora expressed concern that many aspects of the expansion plan, including the new terminal proposal, currently would have an outsized impact on his constituents.
“It’s very concerning to me that East Haven seemed like it was in the backdrop of all communications,” Carfora said in an interview with the News. “I want to fight for my residents. I want a seat at the table”.
Though Tweed is owned by the city of New Haven, large portions of the airport sit in East Haven.
New Haven Economic Development Administrator Mike Piscitelli said that the plan will take neighbors’ environmental concerns into “thoughtful consideration” to ensure that the airport’s expansion is an appropriate decision.
“It’s clear that as an economic asset to the region, it’s very important to have a strong Tweed that provides credible service balanced by a significant number of environmental protections,” Piscitelli said. “The consulting team has done quite a bit of really hard work to get both the city and the airport authority to an informed place to make decisions.”
Yale University, Yale New Haven Hospital and large businesses in the area have long been staunch supporters of expansion at Tweed.
Scanlon, who assumed his role right before the master plan was announced, said that he has tried to be transparent — going so far as to hand out his personal phone number to concerned residents at public meetings.
“I’m confident that we can get that local support, because we’ve gone to great lengths to try to be good neighbors, while also expanding, which has been a goal of ours for more than a decade,” Scanlon said. “I feel that we’ve been very responsive, or at least more responsive than we’ve been in recent history to a lot of those concerns.”
Tweed-New Haven Airport is located at 155 Burr St.
Isaac Yu | firstname.lastname@example.org