Courtesy of Avports

After decades of struggling to get off the ground, Tweed-New Haven Airport is set to depart on a new privately-funded route of expansion that includes a new terminal, regular airline service and a long-awaited runway extension.

The expansion agreement between the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority and Avports centers a new 74,000 square-foot, carbon-neutral terminal with four gates on the airport’s East Haven side. The plan would also lengthen Tweed’s long-controversial runway by around 1,000 ft., which will allow the airport to accommodate larger aircraft like the Boeing 737 when the runway is completed at some point before 2023. An additional $1.2 million will be spent to upgrade the existing terminal on Burr Street. The expansion plan’s components build on a heavily scrutinized 18-month planning process that was unveiled in March. The agreement and lease still require final approval from the Board of Alders.

The project will be entirely funded by Avports, a private Goldman Sachs-owned company that will take the reins as the airport’s managers for the next 40 years. Meanwhile, a new carrier, the Houston-based Avelo Airlines, plans to begin flight operations to and from New Haven by 2023. Proponents say the addition of a new airline — alongside American Airlines, which recently returned to Tweed after previously announcing it would leave — will increase the affordability of New Haven-based flights for local residents. Once completed, the expansion promises to be Tweed’s ticket out of its decades-long debate.

“For years people have talked about improving this airport to meet the needs of this region and now it’s finally coming to fruition,” Sean Scanlon, director of the Tweed Airport Authority, said in a press release. “This project is about generating significant economic activity in greater New Haven, creating thousands of good-paying local jobs and building one of the country’s first truly sustainable airports.”

According to the agreement, the plan is slated to create 11,000 jobs and some $47 million in state and local tax revenue. Around 10 local and state elected officials applauded the expansion’s potential economic impact at a press conference on Thursday at Tweed. Connecticut U.S. senator Chris Murphy said he believes the expansion will create “thousands and thousands” of new jobs, calling it a “big deal for the entire state.” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont called the project a “crossroads” and heralded the project as one that will be “built by Connecticut folks with quality labor and good benefits”.

City and state officials have long held that Southern Connecticut is an under-served air market, as airport authorities and an urban studies expert have posited that a well-functioning airport is crucial to New Haven’s business connectivity.

“It’s about time the greatest small city in America had the greatest small airport in America,” U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, (D-Conn.), said.

The agreement will eliminate the $1.8 million subsidy Tweed currently receives from state and local governments, of which $325,000 comes from the Elm City. Instead, Avports has promised to invest at least $100 million over the next 43 years.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker announced support for the agreement, noting that it will allow Tweed “to properly function and serve as a reliable asset to members of our community.” 

The Elm City is not the only municipal player at the table. East Haven Mayor Joseph Carfora, who had previously expressed concern about an expansion’s outsized impact on his residents, backed the plan at Thursday’s press conference, saying he had been included in negotiations and made his constituents’ needs “crystal clear.” 

“I am confident that this plan provides East Haven with protections, a sense of certainty, and that it will benefit our community in a way that previous iterations would not have,” Carfora said. 

Besides the local airport authority: two big winners emerged on Thursday. Avports, which has operated Tweed for over 20 years, will receive a 40-year lease and ultimate decision-making power over airport operations in exchange for its investment. The Tweed-Avports agreement promises to relieve the government and taxpayers of “significant financial risk” moving forward. 

Meanwhile, Avelo Airlines, which operates a majority of its flights in California, plans to invest $60 million into new aircraft and personnel at Tweed. The small airline will operate direct flights between Tweed and three to-be-determined destinations, representing its first move to the East Coast. In a Thursday press release, Avelo Airlines CEO Andrew Levy expressed excitement about his company’s “substantial investment.”

“Avelo is thrilled to make Tweed New Haven our first East Coast base and bring a new era of choice, convenience and everyday low fares to Southern Connecticut,” Levy said. “We look forward to hiring many new locally based Avelo Crewmembers and becoming a part of the community.”

Residents of New Haven’s Morris Cove neighborhood have objected to expansion of any kind for decades, citing problems of noise pollution, increased traffic volume, air contamination and environmental concerns like emissions and marsh habitat destruction.

City and airport officials have pointed to a number of spending promises built into the package as evidence that the neighborhood and city have much to gain from the expansion. A total of $5 million is earmarked for “community investments,” including $1.7 million in noise mitigation and $1.5 million for traffic safety improvements and environmental restoration efforts. Avports has also committed to building the new terminal as carbon-neutral.

These same officials have stressed that they have listened to residents throughout the process, with Tweed Director Sean Scanlon calling the project a “culmination of that listening.”

“I made it very clear to this neighborhood that I wanted to listen to them — I wanted to learn from them,” Scanlon said.

In his address at the press conference, Elicker stressed he has heard residents’ valid noise concerns, pointing to the $1.7 million figure as a way to “decompress some of the noise”.

Though the agreement and lease will still require a vote from the Board of Alders, Elicker expressed his enthusiasm for the proposed expansion and thanked city and airport officials for their “tireless” efforts.

“Because of the hard work of the people here and the community, we’ve finally landed on something that works,” Elicker said. 

Tweed-New Haven Airport began flight services in 1931.

ISAAC YU
Isaac Yu writes about Yale's faculty and academics. He is also a production and design editor for the News, and previously covered transportation and urban planning in New Haven. Hailing from Garland, Texas, he is a Berkeley College sophomore majoring in Urban Studies.
OWEN TUCKER-SMITH
Owen Tucker-Smith edits the City Desk and is the Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News Magazine. He previously covered the Mayor's Office. Originally from Western Massachusetts, Owen is a sophomore Statistics & Data Science major in Ezra Stiles College.