Tweed New Haven is embarking on a $70 million privately funded expansion, with a new four-gate, 74,000 square-foot terminal and daily service from a new airline.
Airport and state officials made the announcement during a press conference Thursday morning. It was first reported Thursday by Hearst Media.
The announcement marks a new chapter in the decades-long saga of the quest of New Haven business leaders to increase air travel from the city in the hope of luring more employers, and against the concerns of neighbors and environmentalists who consider it an environmentally dangerous and ultimately economically doomed quest, especially given rising sea levels.
The announcement also comes at a time when the nation is focused on building up its infrastructure as it emerges from pandemic restrictions.
The Board of Alders will need to approve a 43-year extension of the airport’s lease for the deal to happen.
“It’s about time the greatest small city in America had the greatest small airport in America,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy called this a “big deal for the entire state” that reflects New Haven’s status as a “global city” that needs a bigger airport to enable biotech companies in particular to create more jobs here.
“We’re talking about thousands and thousands of jobs that will be created throughout the region” as a result of the expansion, Murphy claimed, repeating a mantra from previous, smaller Tweed expansion and short-lived new-airline announcements.
The deal took six months to negotiate, Airport Manager Sean Scanlon said at the press announcement.
Under the deal, the new carbon-neutral terminal would triple the size of the current terminal and open out onto the East Haven side of the airport, with car traffic to and from I-95 expected to run through the town rather than New Haven’s Morris Cove neighborhood.
Tweed’s current private management company, Avports (owned by Goldman Sachs), promises to invest $70 million in the upgrade, wiping out the $1.8 million with which state and local taxpayers currently subsidize Tweed each year. The city’s current annual operating budget investment in Tweed will be $325,000 next fiscal year. The city also invests roughly $500,000 in capital budget dollars into the airport each year.
In return, Avports gets a 43-year lease on the airport. Tweed’s quasi-public authority will no longer call the shots.
Avports CEO Jorge Roberts said his company will invest $52 million in building out a new terminal on the East Haven side of the airport. It will invest another $4 million in upgrading the current New Haven terminal to accommodate the planned new airline, Avelo, as well as to “improve passenger experience.”
Avports will also dedicate roughly $5 million to community benefit packages for both the East Haven and New Haven sides of the airport. That money will be spent on noise mitigation, traffic calming, and wetlands expansion efforts.
It will spend another $16 million on extending Tweed’s current runway to allow for longer-distance flights.
Finally, over the coming four decades, Avports plans to spend another $20 to $30 million on maintenance of the new East Haven terminal and of the airport as a whole.
Overall, Roberts predicted, his company’s private investment in the airport will exceed $100 million over the next 40-plus years.
“I am shocked that Tweed Airport Authority has ceded local control to out-of-state profiteers for the next 43 years, especially since this land is the site of such long-standing environmental and quality of life concerns,” said neighborhood-based expansion opponent Sean O’Brien.
The airline, Avelo, plans to make three flights a day out of Tweed starting this summer to as-yet unnamed destinations. The eventual hope is for eight flights a day. The low-fare airline, based in California, launched eight days ago. Its CEO, Andrew Levy, said Thursday he expects the Tweed flights to begin in the third quarter.
Avports and Avelo promise to create up to 175 jobs between them through the expansion. New Haven Works has been tapped to help find local people for those positions.
By the end of 2023, the plan is for the Tweed runway to be extended so that 737 jets can fly in and out of the airport for the first time since 1996.
Avports CEO Roberts promised at the press conference that his company will “develop the airport in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way.”
Asked how his company expects to recoup its investment, Roberts cited multiple revenue streams, from car rentals and tenant leases to retail opportunities.
Mayor Justin Elicker — who’s facing a challenge this year in his quest for a second two-year term — hailed a “deal that works for everyone” and is “sensitive to neighborhood issues.” He also said the new service will enable New Haveners “to actually afford flights here.” He has flown out of Tweed only once, Elicker noted.
Scanlon argued the deal will benefit New Haven in numerous ways. It will wipe out the $325,000 annual city subsidy (separate from the state’s subsidy). And a $5 million “community benefits package” will support noise and traffic mitigation and wetlands protection for both New Haven and East Haven.
“I’ve heard from the residents of East Haven. I’ve heard from the residents of New Haven,” Scanlon said at the press conference announcement. He claimed “those voices were heard” in the community benefits package.
The deal would include $1.7 million for soundproofing. Elicker noted that the number of general aviation flights — which create the most noise — are not expected to increase over time. The relatively smaller number of new commercial flights are quieter.
The deal also includes $1.5 million for traffic-calming and stormwater management and a habitat restoration plan that expands wetlands more than will be lost in the runway expansion, and upgrades tidal gates, Elicker said.
The airport currently has one commercial flight a day, along with 40 private flights, according to Scanlon.
“This has been an elusive deal for decades and decades,” Elicker said.