Aviation officials and the city of New Haven have begun discussions on the future of Tweed-New Haven Airport, which could lead to an agreement with the Connecticut Airport Authority.
The CAA already runs Bradley International Airport, Hartford-Brainard Airport and four other small regional airports in Danielson, Oxford, Groton and Windham.
A full or partial takeover of Tweed could be a major growth opportunity for the New Haven area’s flight market, where additional commercial flights could facilitate economic activity, said John Picard, chairman of the Tweed board of directors.
“Realistically, it would be some sort of operating agreement with the CAA,” Picard said. “We want to make sure commercial flights remain in New Haven. That’s extremely important for economic development.”
“I think it makes sense, as long as we protect the city and Tweed,” Picard said.
Tweed currently runs three flights per day between New Haven and Philadelphia. The airport is in East Haven but is owned by the city of New Haven
In January, the CAA board and New Haven officials agreed to form a working committee to discuss Tweed’s position, and that group held its first meeting Feb. 12.
Tweed Interim Executive Director Matthew Hoey, who is also the Guilford first selectman, said initial discussions have been introductory in nature, and haven’t targeted any particular strategy for how the airport might look in the future.
“We did not want to limit ourselves to a particular solution,” Hoey said. “There are several stakeholders who need to have an opportunity to weigh in on this.”
Also under consideration right now is a bill to allow New Haven to Tweed’s main runway, which is currently restricted to 5,600 feet. The city wants to make changes to the safety areas on both ends of the runway to provide more room, potentially changing its classification with the FAA and allowing more flight options in the future, said Laurence Grotheer, spokesman for Mayor Toni Harp.
“This would provide easier access to New Haven, the economic and cultural hub of Connecticut, be a major convenience for hundreds of thousands of Connecticut air travelers each year, and remove from southwestern Connecticut all those trips to New York-area airports that contribute to congestion, delays, and air pollution,” Grotheer said.
The bill is scheduled for a public hearing today and opposition to expanding the runway still exists.
Grotheer said the work to expand the runway would be done only within the airport’s existing footprint, and would not change the current boundaries.
The runway work is unrelated to a CAA arrangement, Picard said, but the current environment with a new governor, new transportation strategies and a vacancy in the airport director’s position make this year a good time to consider the airport’s future.
Former Tweed Executive Director and State Sen. Tim Larson left the airport recently after Gov. Ned Lamont appointed him to take over the state’s Office of Higher Education.
CAA Board Chairman Thomas A. “Tony” Sheridan said the working group’s first meeting was successful, and it’s now up to Tweed and New Haven to come up with a proposal for outside involvement before another meeting is scheduled.
“We just got to know each other [at the Feb. 12 meeting],” Sheridan said. “Everyone in the room wants the airport to be a productive airport for the city of New Haven and the region.”
He said there is no preference from the CAA on taking an advisory role, managing the airport, buying it or some other arrangement. The best approach will be one that secures a viable economic environment for airline travel in the Southern part of the state, he said.
“Airline travel is critically important,” Sheridan said. “It’s part and parcel of the ingredients of good, sustainable economic development, so we’re always looking for new opportunities.”