Tensions between Bradley International Airport and its smaller-but-ambitious competitor, Tweed New Haven, are reflected in a burgeoning turf battle over whether the airport authority that operates Bradley has the power to license Tweed.
Kevin A. Dillon, the executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, is pressing Tweed to submit to its licensing authority as Tweed awaits federal approval of plans to lengthen its runway and build a new terminal in East Haven.
In a letter that became public this week, Dillon said state law is clear and warned Tweed to file a renewal by the close of business on Nov. 3, or “the CAA will be forced to take any and all action necessary.”
What exactly that means was not articulated. In a telephone interview Tuesday, Dillon said the letter “speaks for itself.”
The Tweed New Haven Airport Authority has refused to complete the form necessary to renew a license that expired in March 2022, saying under federal law it answers to the Federal Aviation Administration, not the CAA.
“This is also consistent with state law, which establishes the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority as an independent airport authority,” Matthew Hoey III, the chair of Tweed-New Haven’s board, said in a statement Tuesday.
Questions over CAA’s jurisdiction over Tweed are not new, and most if not all have arisen since Tweed made clear its intentions to compete with Bradley, which sits between Hartford and Springfield, for air travelers from southern Connecticut.
Avelo, a low-cost air carrier, has been providing service to a growing list of destinations since 2021, the same year the airport’s private operator, Avports, committed to an expansion.
Jorge Roberts, the chief executive to Avports, complained in a letter to Gov. Ned Lamont last year that the CAA was trying to undermine a Tweed expansion it opposes as competitive with Bradley.
“We are concerned that the CAA only started claiming jurisdiction after the announcement of Avports’ significant proposed investment in HVN,” he wrote. HVN is the FAA identifier code for New Haven.
A state law passed in 2011 established the CAA to develop, improve and operate Bradley and the state’s five other general aviation airports: Danielson, Groton/New London, Brainard in Hartford, Waterbury-Oxford and Windham.
It also transferred other aviation responsibilities from the Department of Transportation to the CAA, which Dillon said gives the authority jurisdiction over Tweed.
“We regulate all airports in the state,” Dillon said.
Dillon said there are no obstacles to Tweed’s licensure other than its refusal to complete the paperwork.
“It’s a relatively simple process, where it’s a one-page form that needs to be filled out to apply for the license. It is a very simple administrative matter,” Dillon said.
Hoey said in his statement that all meaningful regulations, including questions of expansion and air safety, rest with the FAA, and the state law creating the CAA did nothing to take away the independence of Tweed’s airport authority.
“Such a policy makes sense given the CAA’s clear conflict of interest as the owner of Bradley International Airport, and their well-established concerns about competition in the Connecticut marketplace,” Hoey said. “Simply put, it is completely inappropriate for the CAA to serve as both a competitor and regulator of Tweed New Haven Airport.”
Dillon said the CAA can do both, though he acknowledged a reluctance to talk about the degree to which he sees Tweed as a competitor in an interview prompted by questions over CAA’s regulatory jurisdiction.
The expansion of Tweed has generated opposition, primarily from the East Haven side of the airport. Access to the new terminal would be in East Haven, and East Haven residents say the runway expansion into their community would degrade a sensitive environment and increase noise pollution.
Dillon’s letter was dated Oct. 3 and addressed to Tweed’s executive director, Tom Rafter, with copies to various interested parties — including John Stafstrom, the lawyer representing East Haven in its opposition to the expansion.