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Tweed’s Fate Up In The Air

by Melissa Bailey | Feb 27, 2013 6:11 pm

(33) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Transportation

Thomas MacMillan Photo Whether airplanes continue landing in New Haven may depend on whether President Obama strikes a deal with Congress before midnight Thursday—and whether US Airways and small-plane pilots will be willing to touch down without guidance from an air traffic control tower.

Tweed-New Haven Airport fell on a list of small airports around the country that might fall prey to about $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts (aka “the sequester”) scheduled to take effect Friday if no deficit-reduction deal transpires between Obama and Congress.

At issue is whether Tweed would lose its air traffic control tower, from which Federal Aviation Administration staffers help pilots take off and land safely.

Tweed and five other Connecticut airports—every one in the state except Bradley International Airport—fell on a list of 238 small airports at risk of having their towers closed due to the sequester. The FAA announced last Friday it plans to close towers at 100 airports on that list; it didn’t specify which ones.

The cuts would not have an immediate impact. They would take effect in April, according to a joint statement by the FAA and the federal Department of Transportation. 

The announcement sparked local concern over Tweed’s fate.

If no deal is reached, local and statewide politicians—including Mayor John DeStefano, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Dick Blumenthal—plan to convene a press conference at Tweed on Friday outlining the sequester’s damaging effects. DeStefano said he is most concerned about federal funding to schools—click here to read more about possible cuts. On Friday, politicians plan to point to Tweed as Exhibit A of the sequester’s impact.

Tweed’s one commercial airline, US Airways, makes four daily round trips to Philadelphia, lifting 40,000 people into the air per year, according to Tweed Executive Director Tim Larson. In addition to the commercial flights, smaller, chartered planes make 75,000 departures per year. The airport employs 70 to 80 people, and shuttles patients and other visitors en route to Yale-New Haven Hospital, Yale University, and regional businesses, Larson said.

DeStefano said he is concerned about Tweed’s ability to maintain commercial airline service as well as retain business from small chartered planes if its tower is closed. He said he has been working with Connecticut’s Congressional delegation to fight the cuts.

Sen. Murphy vowed to go to the bat for Tweed.

“Cutbacks in air traffic control could have a devastating effect on our small local airports,” Murphy warned. “When an airport loses its air traffic control capacity, that makes it very hard to operate.”

Murphy said he plans to “reach out to US Airways to keep them invested in Tweed.” Meanwhile, he said he supports “targeted common-sense cuts” and raising more revenue instead of the “insane” across-the-board cuts that will come from sequestration. “People in Connecticut want us to reduce the deficit, but they don’t want us to do it stupidly. That’s what we’re doing now. Sequestration will reduce the deficit, but it will do it at a cost to the economy that greatly outweighs the benefit to the slight reduction in our deficit.”

U.S. Rep. DeLauro of New Haven also vowed to join the fight for Tweed.

“On Friday, we will be facing deep, automatic, and across-the-board cuts that threaten our economy and the well-being of millions of American families,” DeLauro warned in an email message to the Independent Wednesday. “Tweed Airport and its staff will be among those affected, potentially forced to close air traffic control towers to reduce costs. Instead of cutting so deeply into discretionary spending, Congress should be working on a balanced solution to address our budget challenges.”

The news that Tweed may face hardship brought mixed reactions around town.

“I love flying out of Tweed. It’s quick, convenient, and unlike many larger airports I have been to, the staff are friendly and helpful,” wrote an Independent commenter named RR.

Others welcomed the chance to release a financial burden: In addition to state and federal funding, taxpayers currently contribute $325,000 per year in New Haven property tax to Tweed’s operating budget.

“This would be awesome. No more dependency payments from the state or local taxpayers. The property could be redeveloped into a tax-paying revenue generating entity and no more promises of another airline that never comes. There’s a silver lining,” wrote Noteworthy.

Much remains up in the air at this point. Larson said he does not know whether Tweed’s tower would be targeted for closure. The FAA announced it would close towers of 100 airports with “fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations per year.” With fewer than 3,000 commercial flights per year, Tweed falls well shy of that threshold.

Tweed’s tower is staffed by two FAA air traffic controllers at any given time from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., Larson said. The FAA staff communicate with pilots to clear the airspace, help planes land in inclement weather, and tell planes which runway to use.

If Tweed’s tower closes, would the airport stay open?

That decision may lie in the hands of US Airways.

Airports can, and frequently do, operate without air traffic control towers. Nearly 20,000 airports across the country operate without towers, while only 500 have towers, according to the FAA. Federal guidelines offer guidelines for how to land safely without a tower in place. Airlines will make their own decisions as to whether to continue landing at airports whose air traffic control towers close.

Larson said he is talking to US Airways about whether it would continue service without a working tower. A US Airways spokeswoman declined comment on the matter. US Airways referred comment to a national association called Airlines For America. That association “is working very closely with the FAA to minimize any impact” of the cuts on airlines and their customers, said spokeswoman Jean Medina.

Larson said losing the tower may affect the “general aviation” side of Tweed, which hosts chartered planes and a flight school.

“If we don’t have the tower, planes are going to go elsewhere,” he predicted.

Larson called for a solution that would not hurt New Haven’s airport.

“They should save Tweed,” he argued. Tweed generates $22 million in economic impact for this region, he claimed. He called it a vital service to nearby businesses, to Yale, and to Yale-New Haven Hospital. “The hospital would be devastated if we lost our tower because we would lose emergency flights,” by which doctors and patients are shuttled to the hospital.

“There would be significant economic impact if this [sequester] comes to fruition,” Larson said.

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posted by: anonymous on February 27, 2013  7:07pm

You can’t have a functioning city these days without an airport.  No airport, bye bye city. 

New Haven is the largest underserved air market in the country by a wide margin.  It is too far away to be considered part of the NYC/LGA (like Stamford) or Hartford/BDL (like Springfield) areas. Look at New London/Norwich, which is primarily supported by a nationally-significant defense base and casinos, has very little economic activity despite being a beautiful natural area, and has seen companies like Pfizer flee for places like Boston, even though it is located closer to Providence airport than New Haven is to Bradley.

The State needs to step in make sure that BDL and Tweed are both priority airports. It’s not just the airport worker jobs that depend on it.

posted by: Stylo on February 27, 2013  8:05pm

New Haven needs Tweed to grow. A better Tweed means a more prosperous city. All successful cities have a good airport, and the further globalization of business means it’s a requirement for future growth. Expanding Tweed could be one of the best things the city could ever do. 

To those happy about saving $325,000 on property tax, are you kidding me? Do you know how small of a fraction of the total budget that is? How minuscule it is compared to education costs?

Incredibly short-sighted.

posted by: Stylo on February 27, 2013  8:07pm

Also, anonymous - well said. I hope you’ve shared your thoughts with our leaders! We all need to.

posted by: Wildwest on February 27, 2013  10:33pm

Actually most large cities have an average 20-30 minute drive to “the” airport. It takes me 30-45 minutes to get up to Hartford to catch a flight and yes, I break the speed limit slightly. Sometimes I hop on a train to catch a flight in NYC/NJ even.

I have lived here for 6 years and have looked into flying out of Tweed each time(a dozen at least) and the cost was WAY too much.

The fact is 99% of New Haveners dont use Tweed so it seems to me its a great runway to close.

Does Yale not have a heliport for important situations?

posted by: Noteworthy on February 27, 2013  11:32pm

There are plenty of successful cities without airports. We have easy access to Westchester, NYC, Providence and Bradley, all of which have better prices than Tweed. We have been promised that Tweed was going to grow for at least 20 years. It has not happened. If you think $325K is small, then pay it yourself or make it up in user fees on a per ticket, per parking basis. Moreover, the city’s contribution is not just to the operating budget; Tweed also taps New Haven taxpayers for credit support. Yes, all of Tweed’s debt falls on us; and we routinely authorize more bonded debt on our dime every year and have for decades. As for people leaving if there is no airport, that really is laughable. People move for jobs, family, opportunity. In all the years I’ve traveled around the U.S. I’ve never once considered whether I was close to an airport. I don’t anybody who does or ever did.

posted by: SaveOurCity on February 28, 2013  12:14am

Murphey and Blumenthal are lying - plain and simple.  There have been 2 alternate proposals for more rational spending cuts passed by the House of Reps….the Senate will not even bring this up to vote.  Its plain to see that this unless this can be used as yet another excuse to raise taxes, Obama and his crew won’t play along

posted by: AMDC on February 28, 2013  6:34am

NH is not a functioning city; Yale is. Let Yale pay for the airport.  New Haveners do not need it. We have been lied to for years about how it was growing or would/could grow.
We have Bradley, Brown, and NYC.
Let it be the putt-putt airport is has always been or close it down and make it return to being wetlands we also need.  Or move it to a less-densely populated area of NH county where the fumes and noise can be better appreciated..

posted by: anonymous on February 28, 2013  8:08am

Noteworthy, please name a successful metropolitan area that has no airport.

30 minutes to Bradley? By helicopter car?

posted by: dandelp on February 28, 2013  9:45am

I tend t oagree that this is a battle over comfort not need. I have never flown out of Tweed based off of price. It is not a common airport and unless it can generate enough common traffic to support itself, I feel it is fine to close and be part of a more responsible spending program. The fat needs to be trimmed and start somewhere.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on February 28, 2013  10:02am

hmm money maker? is that why NEW HAVEN tax payer have to subsidize it?? Money maker for the “region” still again is that why NEW HAVEN is the only surrounding city asked to subsidize it?? Am I wrong?? We have been waiting for new carriers for a decade…none have come? It is the same story year after year at the BOF meetings when they ask us to subsidize. Hmmm

posted by: anonymous on February 28, 2013  10:49am

AMDC, New Haven is not only a functioning city, it is one of the only area of Connecticut that is adding jobs.  There are 250,000 jobs in the city and surrounding area and the average salary is far above the US average. Yale and the hospitals together employ maybe 1/10th of that total.

posted by: anonymous on February 28, 2013  11:02am

Cedar Hill, the government builds roads, too. Would you argue that if we had no paved roads, our economy would be just as large and wealthy?

posted by: PDCH22 on February 28, 2013  11:27am

I have used Tweed quite a few times recently and the cost is fairly close to flying out of Bradley. Plus you save time, money and gas by not having to drive to Hartford or NYC/NJ or take the train or a limo service. So in the long run you either actually save money or pretty much break even. On top of that, then I have a five minute drive home rather than 45 minutes to two hours (or longer depending on traffic). The biggest downside is that there are no direct flights to anywhere but Philly, it sure would be great if there were more options.

posted by: MAC1 on February 28, 2013  12:51pm

I fly 6 to 10 times per year, to various parts of the US and to international destinations.  In the 20 years I’ve lived in New Haven County, I’ve never taken a flight to or from Tweed Airport.  It takes me 40 minutes to get to Bradley, which actually has parking and service to destinations you might actually consider at prices that are within reason.  In its current form and with its present carrier service, it is useless to the overwhelming majority of the population of the Greater New Haven Area, and to the rest of the state.  It will never expand into a more viable airport due to local opposition in Morris Cove and East Haven.  It is neither a growth pole for development in the region, nor is it a vital link for existing infrastructure.  There are five other public and private airports within 20 miles that offer flight school and charter service.  Save your tears for New Haven property owners paying a 38.88 mill rate.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 28, 2013  1:13pm

Anon:
What’s your definition of success? What size Metro and I’ll get back to you.

If one considers New Haven a “success” which is questionable - it is not because of Tweed. It is because of the Eds and Meds - the only two segments of the market that have grown. Yale and YNH were never leaving and they’re not here because of Tweed.

Tweed is a convenience, not a cause. It is convenient but only for 40,000 passengers a year; and that does not mean 40,000 unique people out of a metro area of more than a million.

All that said, nobody is going to shutter Tweed unfortunately because there are powerful private interests who like the convenience and love the idea that the public pays for their flying perks. It’s like having a private airport for free. And of course it gives a rallying cry for the politicians. These are of course, the same ones who supported these blunt, not very smart cuts in the GROWTH of the federal budget, not real cuts. On the state level, junior pols are the same ones who agreed to overspend their budget too and to allocate money for more welfare, higher debt and a billion dollars in new spending.

It’s a circus. Throw a tent over it.

posted by: skyrocket27 on February 28, 2013  2:34pm

The immediate question that comes to mind is: if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?  In otherwords, if an airport stops operating that wasn’t serving anyone, will anyone notice or care?

posted by: PH on February 28, 2013  2:36pm

Take away tax perks from private jets and their owners.  Apply to salaries for air traffic controllers.  Problem solved.  Just need to get some richy-rich-lovin’ Republican congressmen (yes, they’re almost all men) to stop destroying America and see the light.

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on February 28, 2013  3:22pm

Noteworthy has it right.
$325K will hire 6+ new teachers. Stop wasting taxpayer’s $. Let Yale run it as a private airport and take it off our tax burden.

posted by: Lisa on February 28, 2013  3:48pm

Like PDCH22, I have used Tweed many times.  I even used it for a trip to Europe.  Its so convenient and the cost is comparable to flights out of Bradley but with out the traffic hassles, or need to pay for parking.  More New Haveners SHOULD use Tweed.  I don’t understand why some many are haters.

posted by: Walt B on February 28, 2013  4:16pm

I’ve flown out of Tweed 4 times since Memorial Day.  Just last month i got a round trip to new orleans for $220.  For a typical 5-7 day vacation out of Bradley there is at least an hour each way - more in rush hour,  about $75-100 in parking, plus if your flight is canceled you have to drive back and do it again.  Tweed runs on average about $40 more then Bradley.  I love our little airport.  Plus i can see my house from up there sometimes.

posted by: mm on February 28, 2013  4:36pm

I am a former New Haven resident who now lives in nearby Fairfield County.  I flew from Tweed for many years. In the late 1960s I flew Eastern Airlines B727 jet service one stop to Miami (through Washington DC). I attended college in Philadelphia and flew nonstop on Allegheny at fairs comparable to Amtrak from Union Station.  During the failed Air Wisconsin/United arrangement I flew to Chicago regularly on their BAE146 jets.  In the early 2000s I flew Delta (Comair) regional jets via Cincinnati to many destinations throughout the USA.
However, I avoided the 19 passenger Pilgrim Airlines props to JFK and LGA, and I will not fly the current non-jet service offered from Tweed.
I was always able to get pricing comparable to Bradley or NY on Jet service from Tweed.  I live 30 minutes drive from Tweed or 40 minutes from Westchester (White Plains) Airport.  I do not use Bradley, LGA or JFK for domestic travel.  I am more than willing to change planes to avoid the bid crowded airports, BUT am not willing to fly the little sardine cans that serve Tweed.
I insist on flying planes that use jet-ways at takeoff and landing airports, where I can carry on bags of some size where I can stand up in the aisle and have lavatories.
The service available from Tweed is a throwback to the bad or primitive equipment offered 45 years ago.  Unless regional jets return to Tweed and nonstop flights to an assortment of cities there is no hope of having a viable airport for commercial travel.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 28, 2013  4:54pm

Lisa:

Most New Haveners can’t AFFORD to use Tweed. I hope you enjoyed your trip to EUROPE.

posted by: Lisa on February 28, 2013  5:06pm

Noteworthy If someone can AFFORD to fly, they can AFFORD to fly out of Tweed.

posted by: PDCH22 on February 28, 2013  5:47pm

Noteworthy: Anybody that can afford to fly at all CAN afford to fly out of Tweed. It is only about $30-50 more to do so and you’ll easily save that by not having to take a limo or drive to Hartford and back. You can even take a cab to save on parking and it still works out. I don’t know why everyone keeps insisting that it is “only for the rich Yalies and the affluent” I am neither and I use it. And like Walt B says it is really cool to see your house and neighborhood as you’re flying in and out.

posted by: Wildwest on February 28, 2013  6:43pm

Lets throw some #s- I usually fly to somewhere in the west. Every time I check prices, the average round trip to a western city is 300 from Hartford and 500 from New Haven.

Just to back that up I went and checked a couple of cities I fly to-

1086.00 to SLC from New Haven
688.00 to SLC from Hartford

955.00 to Las Vegas from New Haven
877.00 to Las Vegas from Hartford

the average difference is about 240.00 for a round trip. hmmm, thats 120 extra each way.

posted by: Lisa on February 28, 2013  10:26pm

Tweed to LA 399 r/t
Bradley to LA 379

Tweed to Vegas 361
Bradley to Vegas 367

Tweed to London 927
Bradley to London 927

Tweed to Phoenix AS 395
Bradley to Phoenix AZ 390

Tweed to SLC 433
Bradley to SLC 427

All R/T prices leaving May 1 and returning May 6.

What did you search,WW, over night flights?

posted by: Noteworthy on March 1, 2013  9:14am

Lisa - You just made my point. IF you can AFFORD to fly - Most New Haven taxpayers CANNOT AFFORD to fly but all are forced to subsidize what amounts to a private airport for those who can. If you can AFFORD TO FLY, you AFFORD TO PAY for your own private service via parking fees (which are lower than downtown parking) and user surcharges on your tickets.

As a sideshow on the ticket prices you noted, those are comparable to BDL, but it is not always so. On a recent business trip to NC, SC, the tickets even with a 3 week advance were significantly more than NYC, BDL and comparable with Westchester. Keep in mind, that if you are going on a family vacation, disparities in price get multiplied by family.

posted by: Lisa on March 1, 2013  9:38am

I’d like to see that data that supports most people in New Haven can not afford to fly.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on March 1, 2013  10:39am

median income in new haven is 35,000 that is your answer. The surrounding city’s is higher. Anon should be able to verify that with better data, I know he has posted it from time to time.

I only know a few of the posters in this comment thread.  Most of you are new ones, my guess is trying to stear the story.  All we are asking is that the New Haven residents should not have to subsidies this air port anymore. If you have a way of making that happen great. But if not I really do not this that many “New Haven Residents” will even realize the air port closed.

posted by: Noteworthy on March 1, 2013  12:04pm

Citywide Unemployment: 8.7%
Urban Unemployment: 20% (est)
Income Per Capita: $20,723 (every man, woman, child)
Median Income Per Household (HH): $38,264
Total HHs Less Than $100K: 88.03%
Total HHs Less Than $75K: 78.68%
Total HHs Less than $50K: 61.46%

This is gross income. If you deduct federal and state taxes, social security and medicare, you have real net take home pay that is about 25 to 30% less.

The average rent in New Haven: $1050/month; plus utilities, food, medical, kids clothes, school expenses, gas, car maintenance. How much is left? Not enough to fly out of Tweed. Ever.

However, 11.93% can afford to fly and if they do, they should pay. To cover the drain on New Haven taxpayers, consider this:

The 75,000 private plan landings could pay an extra $2.50 to land; and the 37,000 ticketed passengers would pay a surcharge of just $5.06 per ticket. If Tweed raised the parking fees a bit, that surcharge could be lower. If you can afford to fly your private plane into Tweed, I really think you can afford $2.50 - that’s cheaper than their Starbucks or if they’re cheap, it’s about the cost of a medium coffee at Dunkin.

posted by: TJSNewHaven on March 1, 2013  8:29pm

First of all, I find it pretty unlikely that the FAA would actually close the tower at Tweed. Out of a list of 200 airports only 100 are in danger of being closed. While this does mean there’s a chance, I would find it pretty unlikely with Yale being right here. In addition, Tweed does have commercial flights and a lot of jet traffic, as well as a decent amount of air traffic due to Yale New Haven Hospital and Coast Guard helicopters - all good reasons to have a controlled tower.

If by chance the tower did close, Tweed would probably remain open as an uncontrolled airport and would probably still receive a good amount of money from New Haven and I imagine some from Yale as well. Tweed isn’t going anywhere and it shouldn’t - the 75,000 private landings per year certainly make an economic impact for this region.

posted by: steve on March 2, 2013  9:06pm

Tweed is the easiest airport to fly out of and while Usairways only flies to Philly,over 90% of the passengers connect to other destinations, domestic and international all with one connection. If you have never tried tweed, give a shot and you will realize how much time is wasted driving almost to Massachusetts to board a flight at bradly field or the parking lot to the NY airports known as I-95.
The last 3 years has seen the most improvements at tweed since the 70’s, but with today’s economy, it will take time to attract more service. The flight path obstruction removal project is almost complete except for a few who are resisting having some trees taken down,when the project is complete the airlines will have a clear picture as to what hub airports and type of aircraft will be compatible with tweeds infrastructure.
For those who have not tried tweed, “try it, you’ll like it”.

posted by: Ct Taxpayer07 on March 4, 2013  5:40pm

It is About time for the Waste of Tax Payers Money into the Tweed Airport to come to an end.
Many New Haven area residents Do Not Use the Airport due to the Limited High Priced US Airway flights.The Aiport has way too many People being paid to run such a low daily flight schedule of only 4 US Airway Flights.
The Best CT Airport is Bradley, Get’s an A+ for Safety and Reasonable cost to fly.

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