WINDSOR LOCKS — Connecticut Airport Authority officials will soon begin formal negotiations on an offer to take over operations at Tweed New Haven Airport.
The CAA board voted April 15 to allow negotiations to begin, potentially a first step in bringing Tweed and its three daily flights to Philadelphia and Saturday Charlotte service into an organization that includes Bradley International Airport, Hartford-Brainard Airport, and four regional airports in Danielson, Oxford, Groton, and Windham.
“I think it’s a great first step to offer to enter into an operating agreement and you see how things evolve after that, if they evolve at all,” said CAA Executive Director Kevin Dillon. “Right now we’ve heard loud and clear from the Tweed Airport Authority what they’d like to see, and they’d like to see an operating agreement that leads toward the eventual acquisition of the airport by the CAA, and now we’re waiting to hear from the city whether or not they share that view.”
He said there are huge economies of scale to be realized in marketing, engineering, operations, and route development that are being done in both locations. Coordination between Bradley and Tweed could greatly benefit both airports, Dillon said, and save money for the city of New Haven, which owns Tweed.
A study commissioned by the Tweed authority showed just a 12% overlap in target markets, Dillon said, so there is a strong opportunity in the future to draw traffic away from New York and Newark airports rather than from Bradley.
Tweed board Chairman John Picard said Friday that an arrangement with the CAA makes sense as long as commercial flights from New Haven remain a high priority.
“We want to make sure the service we’re offering is going to be able to continue,” Picard said. “I don’t think this will be a long, drawn-out process.”
A bill currently before the state legislature would allow for Tweed’s runway to be extended from its current 5,600 feet to allow larger aircraft to use it. The Transportation Committee has issued a favorable report on the bill, and it is now pending in the House. The runway work is unrelated to coordination between Tweed and the CAA, but a longer runway would allow for greater route flexibility in the future.
“Air travel from Southern Connecticut is time-intensive and inconvenient. Upgrades at Tweed will ensure that visitors to Connecticut are welcomed in Connecticut,” Michael Piscitelli, New Haven’s interim economic development administrator, wrote in testimony submitted to the legislature on behalf of the city.
He wrote that providing a way for area customers to use Tweed instead of New York airports would boost the local economy, and that more than 60% of the air travelers in Tweed’s market fly through John F. Kennedy International Airport and Laguardia Airport.
“This a remarkable missed opportunity for Connecticut and the reason we need Tweed as a ‘southern tier’ complement to Bradley,” Piscitelli wrote.
Tweed is owned by the city of New Haven, which has often faced opposition to commercial air travel from people who live nearby on the New Haven/East Haven line. Noise abatement and traffic mitigation work has been ongoing at Tweed in an effort to address complaints, Piscitelli’s testimony said.
Dillon said that if the CAA does take over Tweed in some way, he would propose giving up the Federal Aviation Administration certificate on Groton-New London Airport, which he said costs about $250,000 each year to maintain despite no commercial service there since 2004.
The CAA has also been monitoring developments at the city of Bridgeport-owned Sikorsky Memorial Airport, which is seeking a potential return of commercial service. The airport, like Tweed, is limited by its small size but is pursuing infrastructure improvements that could provide a chance for an airline to offer regular routes.
“They’ve certainly kept us informed of their plans,” Dillon said. “I don’t really see that as competition to us, I think if anything they can help keep the Connecticut economy here in Connecticut by having passengers that in that area stop going down to New York.”