Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Sen. Tim Larson, D-East Hartford, and co-chair of the Public Safety and Security Committee (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

NEW HAVEN —With its executive director leaving after a decade-long run for a high-level state position, Tweed New Haven-Regional Airport is about to enter another chapter with a yet-to-be-named new leader on board.

State Sen. Tim Larson, executive director for the airport authority, is resigning both as a state senator and as head of the airport’s operations. He is also the former mayor of East Hartford.

Governor-elect Ned Lamont has nominated Larson to head up the Office of Higher Education, which administers state financial aid programs, oversees the licensure and accreditation of the state’s independent colleges and universities, and regulates more than 150 post-secondary career schools.

Tweed officials say the state’s gain will be Tweed’s loss.

“Tim was very good at his job,” said John Picard, himself a former mayor of West Haven, and the chairman of the Tweed Airport Authority. “He is not going to be easy to replace.”

But Larson sees the new position to head up an obscure office with a budget of $32 million and a staff of 25 employees as an opportunity.

“This is an exciting opportunity which allows me to leverage my experience and relationships as an elected official and my current role as executive director of Tweed New Haven Airport Authority to help further develop job paths and opportunities for students enrolled in our independent colleges and universities and postsecondary career schools,” said Larson.

Picard said he spoke to Larson Monday and that Larson promised Picard “some flexibility” in his resignation date.

“So hopefully we’ll have some time. We may have to pick an interim person – we’ll see,” said Picard.

Being in charge of Tweed operations has always been a politically sticky position as the issue of weighing the pros of expanding the airport to the business community versus the cons of a neighborhood that doesn’t want to see the expansion has been debated for decades.

The issue has been talked about in East Haven, New Haven and up at the state capitol.

Speaking of the state capitol, Picard is hopeful the change of administrations may help give the Tweed expansion plans the kickstart it needs.

Picard said he has had discussions with Lamont and Lt. Gov.-elect Susan Bysiewicz and both understood the importance of a Tweed expansion to the business community.

Lamont told Picard, Picard said that expanding Tweed “would be one of his main priorities.”

Last year, the New Haven Board of Alders approved a resolution supporting the lengthening of the main runway, but the decision was still left in the hands of the General Assembly who said there was not time to take up the bill before the close of the last session.

A recent report to the airport authority by a hired consultant said commercial service would increase if the airport were able to get permission to pave existing runway safety areas to expand its 5,600-foot main runway to 6,000 feet.

One of the carriers interested – if the airport was larger – is Allegiant Air.

“Our analysis shows that the New Haven market would be a great addition to the Allegiant Air network,” said Dustin Call of Allegiant in a letter to New Haven Mayor Toni Harp. “We feel that the lack of affordable leisure fares in this region create the opportunity for us to potentially serve multiple cities.”

Allegiant’s plan would be to serve three destinations, with two flights per week to each, using 159-seat Airbus 319 aircraft and 177- or 186-seat Airbus 320 aircraft.

American Eagle recently began once a week flights out of Tweed to and from a second destination, Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 22. The carrier said it hopes to eventually increase the frequency.

Tweed has been hampered for a decade by a settlement between New Haven and East Haven officials concerning the airport’s operation.

As part of the settlement, East Haven withdrew its objections to the installation of federally mandated, unpaved runway safety areas at either end of the runway and the General Assembly subsequently passed legislation limiting the runway to its current 5,600 feet.

The settlement also placed limits on future numbers of flights to and from Tweed, among other things.