Tweed-New Haven chief Tim Larson vowed to contest the federal government’s decision to close his airport’s air traffic control tower due to automatic budget cuts.
Larson was notified late Tuesday that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) plans to yank funding from Tweed’s air traffic control tower.
The move would threaten the airport’s long-term viability; it’s not clear if Tweed would have to close. The cuts come due to the federal “sequester,” automatic budget cuts forced by a failure of Democrats and Republicans in Washington to hatch a budget deal.
The FAA plans to close the tower on April 7, according to U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal.
Tweed’s fate has been up in the air since two weeks ago, when the airport learned it may lose its air traffic control tower. Airport Director Tim Larson said losing the tower wouldn’t immediately force the airport to close, but it would threaten the airport’s viability if the sole commercial airline, US Airways, chooses to stop serving the airport. US Airways currently runs four round-trip flights to Philadelphia from Tweed every day. Airline officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday; nor could Larson.
Larson said Tweed plans to appeal the decision. He said he does not know whether US Airways will pull out from the airport, nor whether Tweed would have to close. He plans to meet Thursday with US Airways and all other airport vendors to come up with a strategy to save the airport’s tower.
“We think we have a tremendous case for national security interest and volume,” Larson said.
He noted that Tweed does a lot of business with the FBI, which has an office in New Haven. Yale-New Haven Hospital, which uses the airport for medical flights, is a “huge proponent of the airport,” he added. If the tower closes, there would lots of medical flights that would have to be diverted, he said.
US Airways lifts 40,000 people into the air per year, according to Larson. In addition to the commercial flights, smaller, chartered planes make 75,000 departures per year.
“There are tons of other airports that are not our size and have smaller volumes,” Larson said.
Mayor John DeStefano said he learned of the tower’s slated closure Tuesday. He said he could not predict what it means for the airport’s fate: “We’re exploring what this is going to practically mean now.”
Local and statewide Democratic politicians have blasted Republicans in Washington for failing to come up with a solution to avoid the cuts.
Blumenthal said the FAA notified his office Wednesday that it plans to stop funding air traffic control towers at Connecticut’s six small airports—Sikorsky Memorial, Danbury Municipal, Groton-New London, Hartford-Brainard, Tweed-New Haven and Waterbury-Oxford—on April 7, because of the sequester.
He said he and the Connecticut delegation plan to “urge” the federal Department of Transportation to reverse the decision and keep Tweed open. Closing the air traffic control tower will “curtail or eliminate” commercial air traffic from Tweed, he predicted.
“We’ll make use of any possible avenue of redress or relief” to save Tweed, he said. In addition to the 120 people directly employed by Tweed, “hundreds if not thousands of good jobs” would be at risk as “a result of the ripple effect that Tweed’s closing would cause.”
Tweed has “enormous prospects for growth in commercial traffic, which would be largely eviscerated” by the loss of the air traffic control tower, Blumenthal argued. He called the cut “another example of the very preventable and unnecessary harmful effect of this slashing-across-the-board spending cuts.”
Blumenthal said he plans to work with a bipartisan coalition seeking to end the sequester. In the short-term, he will be asking “why Tweed?” He said preserving Tweed’s commercial flights is important; other small airports offer no commercial flights.
The FAA declined to confirm that it has made a final decision to close Tweed’s tower. In a speech delivered Wednesday, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said “we are contemplating the closure” of “a large number of the 238 air traffic control towers that have fewer than 150,000 total flight operations,” and fewer than 10,000 commercial flight operations per year. That list includes Tweed and the five other Connecticut airports listed above; it does not include Bradley International Airport.
In a joint statement Wednesday afternoon, Connecticut’s delegation to Washington blasted the cuts.
“This move, which is entirely preventable, will have a direct impact on the residents employed by these airports who could lose their jobs, the local economies that rely on these facilities and the safety of our airports,” the delegation wrote. “We will continue our efforts to reverse the sequester and work toward a bipartisan compromise that will avoid these arbitrary across-the-board cuts that threaten to cause job losses in industries throughout the Connecticut economy.”