Wikimedia Commons

Tweed’s expanded runway is one step closer to taking off.

After a year of severely decreased commercial service during the pandemic, Tweed-New Haven Airport is poised to see a number of changes — including a possible move of Tweed’s terminal from Burr Street in New Haven to Proto Street in East Haven and an extension of the operational runway by 1,035 feet, a move that became legal in 2019. As the finale to an Federal Aviation Administration-mandated 18-month process of developing a new master plan for Tweed, officials from the airport authority held a Q&A hearing last night.

They presented the plan’s projected impacts and allowed residents to give feedback. Tweed’s Executive Director Sean Scanlon, also a state representative for Branford and Guilford, emphasized that the airport has not finalized the plan and looks forward to continued feedback from New Haven and East Haven communities.

“I hear you and look forward to continuing this conversation with you,” Scanlon told attendees. “We want to be the airport that meets the needs of the Greater New Haven area, and I think that this master plan sets us up to do that.”

The master plan for Tweed’s expansion was first presented on Tuesday at a meeting of the New Haven’s Development Commission. Before its proposals can be implemented, the plan must receive approval from the FAA as well as state and local governments. The new design is not finalized, Scanlon said, and residents are encouraged to continue giving feedback on the plan over the next year. 

Master Plan a “Charade”?

A number of government officials, including Mayor Justin Elicker, were present at Wednesday’s meeting, having previously advocated for expansion. Politicians have previously cited Tweed’s potential to make the economy of southern Connecticut more competitive as a reason for recommending its expansion. More than 100 New Haven-area businesses and organizations, including Yale and Yale New Haven Hospital, have signed on to a pro-expansion coalition for similar reasons, Scanlon noted.

Some of Tweed’s neighbors, however, have a very different outlook. Some residents from Morris Cove, a New Haven neighborhood on the airport’s west side, have long opposed expansion and the current master plan over a slew of concerns including noise, increased traffic and air pollution. At Tuesday’s meeting, resident Rachel Heerema described the interactive master plan process as “kinder, gentler version of ignoring neighbors’ and taxpayers’ concerns.” Another Morris Cove resident, Susan Campion, is part of a neighborhood coalition concerned with Tweed’s expansion. Many neighbors were “disenchanted” by Tuesday’s meeting and are planning to continue their activism, Campion said.

“The runway is going to be a disaster,” Campion told the News. “We’re going to do another deep dive of research into the expansion’s impacts [on our neighborhood].”

The coalition is currently developing a “Tweed flash report” about Tweed’s negative impacts on their neighborhood. Campion said that this will be released soon to a number of officials and residents, including East Haven Mayor Joseph Carfora, who has raised concerns that the expansion plan and terminal move proposal shift an outsized negative impact onto his residents.

Morris Cove resident Claudia Bosch, a professor at Southern Connecticut State University and another member of the neighborhood coalition, described the plan as a “charade” and “window-dressing.”

“The process gives people the impression that you can voice your concerns and have an impact,” Bosch told the News. “[The expansion’s] proponents tell you that their convenience argument is the one we should listen to. Meanwhile, the inconvenience argument made by the neighbors — that’s to be disregarded.”

In response to Bosch’s comments, Scanlon stressed on Wednesday that Tweed’s community engagement is “not for show.” The master plan’s consultants have made many efforts in adjusting the plan based on residents’ feedback and will give residents many opportunities to continue raising concerns as the master plan moves forward.

Pollution problems

Air and noise pollution were among the top concerns raised by residents on Wednesday. Several attendees, including Bosch, recounted smelling jet fumes while in their homes, especially during the summertime. Though the FAA has implemented noise-mitigation programs, such as soundproofing and window sealing, Bosch’s current residence is too far away to qualify for them — meaning her family is constantly disturbed by noise, particularly at night.

Bosch said that as a group, Morris Cove residents feel betrayed by the city, which had in 2009 signed a “historic” agreement with East Haven to prevent future expansion of Tweed. However, in 2019, the city backtracked after the state passed a law overturning restrictions and allowing for Tweed to lengthen in runways.

“Many will say that our neighbors moved into the neighborhood and should’ve known about the noise,” Bosch said. “But there was once a law that limited the airport. Now that law has been waived.”

Bosch fears that a longer runway, which allows airlines to operate with larger aircrafts, will further exacerbate the neighborhood’s noise issues. Furthermore, she argues, research has shown that New Haven area is a “saturated market” and would not greatly benefit from a larger airport.

In response to noise concerns, Kate Larson, a consultant on the master plan and expert in noise pollution mitigation, gave attendees an overview of the expansion’s potential noise impacts. She noted that though Tweed expects total operations to increase, moving the terminal into East Haven and redesigning the airport’s overall layout will move most of the airport’s noise footprint further away from residential areas.

Representatives from Save the Sound, a local environmental group concerned with the environmental health of the Long Island Sound, also noted on Wednesday that Tweed is located squarely in a low-lying marshland and flood zone. The group also called for more studies into the impacts of climate change on the airport’s future operations.

In response, Scanlon emphasized that the airport is only at the beginning of its expansion process. He promised that environmental factors will be part of its decisions moving forward, especially because the master plan must meet guidelines set by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Future of funding

Though some of Tweed’s negative impacts are localized, the airport has also been criticized for being a tax drain on all city residents. Like many other smaller regional airports, Tweed has operated at a loss for over a decade. It receives an annual $325,000 subsidy from the city of New Haven and $1.5 million from the state government. 

Elicker has previously advocated for eliminating the subsidy Tweed receives from New Haven since taking office. Scanlon, who became Tweed’s executive director in 2019, said he hopes to fulfill that request.

“After 10 years of being handcuffed by a law that was on the states statutes … we can now control our own destiny, and we can make our own financial decisions,” Scanlon said. “If we’re able to do the things that are outlined in this master plan, we will no longer have to rely on the city for that financial support.”

With the longer runway, Tweed hopes to attract more airlines and routes that operate with larger aircraft. Based on the models of McFarland Johnson — a consulting and construction services firm — the airport will go from 50,355 total enplanements in 2019 to 82,723 enplanements by 2025 and 123,999 by 2040.

East Haven resident Patrick Rowland expressed doubts that the airport will be financially feasible in the coming years, especially in light of the pandemic. Business travel has permanently declined, he said, meaning Tweed’s projections of future operations are no longer accurate.

Scanlon acknowledged that the pandemic and resulting loss of business travel had disrupted the master plan process, but said that the airport is taking several steps to ensure its viability going forward, including working with airlines to offer leisure routes to cities in Florida.

“There’s no question that we are all sort of figuring this out on the fly here with business,” Scanlon said. “That’s why it’s very important for us not to put all our eggs in one masket, and make sure that we have a diversity of options for people.”

Though the master plan process began before the pandemic, Scanlon said consultants have factored in the pandemic and the data presented on Wednesday had already been adjusted for a recovery period. Furthermore, though American Airlines’ future at Tweed has been rocky in recent months, the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress this week will require the airline to continue service until at least Sept. 30. 

American Airlines currently offers one daily flight from Tweed to Philadelphia.

Isaac Yu | isaac.yu@yale.edu

Correction, Mar. 11: The headline and story have been corrected to reflect that Mayor Elicker has not announced outright support for the master plan. The story originally said he had.