Double Whammy

If the feds shut down the air traffic control tower at Tweed-New Haven Airport, it could threaten not just commercial flights to Philly, but medical helicopters landing at Yale-New Haven Hospital’s helipad.

Three members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation sent that warning Friday, in the wake of a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration to close the tower. Tweed is one of 173 airports slated to lose their air traffic control towers on April 7 due to the “sequester,” automatic budget cuts prompted by a failure of Democrats and Republicans to strike a budget deal. Tweed may have to close if it loses the tower, depending on whether its sole commercial airline, US Airways, decides to continue landing there without air traffic controllers to guide the way.

Tweed-New Haven Airport chief Tim Larson has vowed to fight the decision.

In a letter Friday to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, U.S. Sens. Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro backed him up.

They urged the FAA to “immediately reconsider” closing Tweed’s tower.

They framed the issue as a public health risk: The tower is vital not just for organ donations arriving at Tweed en route to Yale-New Haven Hospital, they said, but for helicopters landing at the hospital’s helipad downtown. “The Life Star flights to and from this helipad for medical emergencies could be affected if the tower were to close,” they wrote. Injured veterans also arrive at Tweed en route to the West Haven Veterans Affairs facility, they added.

They made a case for Tweed’s unique value in the region: Of the 173 airports slated to lose their towers, Tweed is the only airport in New England that offers commercial service. US Airways runs four daily trips to Philadelphia from Tweed, serving 40,000 people per year, according to the airport authority. The Tweed tower is also in a key position to help guide planes going into and out of New York airports passing over Long Island Sound and lower Connecticut, they added. And in Superstorm Sandy, “when the Sikorsky and Groton/New London airports were underwater, Tweed went unscathed and was able to accept air traffic diverted from other airports.”

Two more reasons: Tweed employs 120 people. And the FAA has already invested over $70 million in improving the airport, with more improvements to come down the line.

“In short, Tweed is a major economic engine and public safety asset for the City of New Haven and the region,” the lawmakers argued. “We should not put safety, jobs, or vital commercial air service at the Tweed airport at risk.”

“The FAA has made no final decisions about tower closures,” the agency said in a press statement Friday.

The air traffic control towers on the list of closures have fewer than 150,000 total flights and fewer than 10,000 commercial flights per year. The agency will be reviewing the list between now and March 13, FAA chief Huerta wrote in a letter dated Tuesday.

“Negative impact on the national interest is the only criterion the FAA will use for deciding to continue services to an airport” that fell on the list, Huerta wrote. “The FAA is unable to consider local community impact that does not affect the national interest.”

“The FAA will consider information concerning how closure of particular tower operations will adversely affect the national interest,” provided that the info comes in on or before March 13, he wrote. The FAA plans to finalize the list of closures on March 18.

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posted by: Curious on March 8, 2013  4:07pm

“The Life Star flights to and from this helipad for medical emergencies could be affected if the tower were to close”

That’s a serious issue, because the hospital also gets trauma patients from around the region, from hospitals without the ability to handle the cases.

What does “could affect” mean, though?  Do they need an air traffic controller to land a helicopter there?  Or is this blowing smoke and trying to drum up more reasons not to close Tweed?

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on March 8, 2013  4:28pm

What is the ‘new’ news in this story? It seems to be re-hashed every day to keep the focus on it, with nothing new to add. I get it already, our local politicians want to keep Tweed open.
I bet the profits from just one of those Yale organ transplants to some Gulf state Emir would more than pay for the salaries for a couple of air traffic controllers. Let Yale pay, or increase the landing fee by a couple of bucks or charge market rate to park. Stop taking Taxpayer money to fund this rich-mans playground.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 8, 2013  5:15pm

I take it you don’t NEED the control towers to land, as apparently it is possible US Airways could continue their service without it and they’re commercial, but I assume it is highly preferential to have one.

At least they do have a pragmatic argument, of the 13 airports slated to lose their town in New England, Tweed is the only one with passenger service, on top of being right next to the state’s largest medical center.

posted by: HhE on March 8, 2013  5:20pm

Well said, Curious.

When all else fails, play the National Security card.

posted by: new havener on March 8, 2013  9:49pm

there is so much more the government and the FAA can cut to meet the sequester. tom coburn has exposed so much waste in government, and he is only one man. look it up in google.
look for the real reason tweed might close. it may be fear.
my suspicion is the airport will remain staffed in the long-run.
it’s actually a clever ploy—-blame the republicans for the near-closure, then democrats take credit for keeping it open.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on March 9, 2013  10:40am

Tweed long has been a budgetary boondoggle and a thorn in the side of East Haven and East Shore residents for years. Meanwhile, thanks to sequester, Rosa DeLauro has to struggle with a lousy $1 million per year of YOUR tax dollars to maintain her “regional offices”, which function primarily as a perpetual re-election campaign headquarters—essentially to keep herself entrenched in Washington.’-office-budgets

posted by: steve on March 10, 2013  4:51pm

Quote “Tweed long has been a budgetary boondoggle and a thorn in the side of East Haven and East Shore residents for years”. I think you have it backwards, East Haven has been a thorn in tweeds side for over 40 years and they have lost every court case involving tweed and even opposed a fire station at the airport.
Tweed can co-exist with its neighbors as long as all sides are reasonable. The airport is not going away and contrary to what some uninformed locals have said, tweed will never become a large airport with many flights per day, and area residents knew full well that the airport has been there since 1929.
Its land area and market will dictate what the service will be and I estimate the airport will not approach the 30 flight per day limit.
Years ago one of the so-called local experts said tweeds plan was to bring in 747’s.Nonsense.
Its time to get the facts and not fear that tweed will grow into another bradley field or even a wastchester airport, both have more than double the land area.
East Haven has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting tweed when instead of fighting tweed, look to benefit from the business it can generate. Years ago tweed lost out on becoming a service center for Canadair which would have meant more jobs and tax revenue and also Fed-Ex basing a plane at tweed that would only make 1 daily flight per day, all these opportunities were lost to local opposition.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on March 11, 2013  7:48pm

Clarification [emailed to me by a retired pilot]: “During 14 years as a GA pilot, I flew into and out of dozens of airports that had unmanned towers (or no towers in many cases) but were controlled by other staffed locations—including turning on landing lights when requested. Airport tower controllers do not help pilots ‘navigate’ to the airports. They sequence and clear aircraft to land at the airport, update weather and wind information, and control the movement of aircraft when they are on the airport surface. At some non-towered airport the weather is done automatically, and the pilots self-announce their positions when landing and taking off on a common frequency. Tweed-New Haven’s control tower is also closed from 10PM to 6AM every day now, and does not seem to restrict or impede Lifestar helicopter operations to Yale-New Haven Hospital or organ donor flights. As a matter of fact, I have landed at Tweed in a commercial 737 after the tower was closed for the evening. Closing the tower does not have to affect commercial operations—unless the operator is looking for a way out of a money losing situation. The amount of scare tactics and ‘not quite accurate’ information being put out about this tower closing is disturbing. General aviation and commercial flights will be safe, as they are now. It is in the pilot’s own best interest to assure that. Remember, the pilot is always the first on the scene of an airplane crash. The only thing that might change is the status of Tweed-New Haven Airport chief Tim Larson’s job—the same Tim Larson who happens to be Congressman John Larson’s brother. Could that be one reason for the effort of the entire CT delegation?”

posted by: TheMadcap on March 12, 2013  10:30am

What part of just because you can do it, doesn’t mean it’s the preferred way doing it, especially for commercial companies do people not understand? Almost everyone can drive without street lights, but street lights are still vastly preferred. Not having a manned control tower is the perfect way to lose your one commercial passenger carrier and a fantastic way to ensure you never attract another. The CT delegation is not going out of it way to support Tweed anymore than anything else. John Larson wasn’t even part of the letter to the FAA. Rosa DeLaruo’s job is to look out after the interests of her district, Blumenthal and Murhpy’s job is to look after any interest in the entire state, they’re literally doing their jobs. If this was the Hartford Independent we’d be reading about them arguing in favor of keeping orders flowing to Pratt & Whitney. I mean for god’s sake are we really complaining now when congress people actually do their job and advocate for their district.