NEW HAVEN — Tweed New Haven Regional Airport and the city of New Haven have appealed the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision, as part of the national budget sequester, to cut funds for air traffic controllers at Tweed’s control tower, citing several ways in which maintaining them is in the national interest.
They filed the appeal along with a letter of support from Connecticut’s two U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3.
Among other things, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Tweed New Haven Airport Authority Chairman Mark Volchek cited Tweed’s proximity to a Tier 1 trauma center in Yale-New Haven Hospital, its role in bringing veterans in for treatment at the West Haven Veteran Affairs Medical Center and the role of Tweed controllers in directing air traffic in the busy New York region.
Tweed, which straddles the New Haven-East Haven border, is one of six smaller Connecticut airports that are on a list of airports across the nation that would lose their controllers as part of sequester-related cuts.
The others are Bridgeport’s Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, Hartford Brainard Airport, Groton-New London Airport, Waterbury-Oxford Airport and Danbury Municipal Airport. All of the other airports would lose their controllers, but none have commercial service.
Of the airports on a proposed list for contract tower closure, “Tweed is one of the only airports in the country within 3 miles of a Tier 1 trauma center, Yale-New Haven Hospital,” they wrote. “Over 400 documented air ambulance movements a year arrive at Tweed en route to Yale-New Haven Hospital, in addition to frequent organ transplant deliveries.”
In addition, “of the airports on the proposed list for Contract Tower closure, Tweed is the only airport in the five New England states with scheduled commercial airline passenger service,” DeStefano and Volchek wrote, referring to Tweed’s US Airways Express service to Philadelphia.
“The proposed action jeopardizes the legacy air carrier’s national flight schedule, routing and aircraft deployment,” they wrote. “Retaining a Contract Tower at Tweed could avert a negative impact on one of the legacy passenger airlines.”
Tweed also has provided air access to Federal officials in five declared national emergencies in the past three years,” Volchek and DeStefano wrote in a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
“For instance, after hurricanes Irene and Sandy, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA officials flew in and out of Tweed repeatedly because all other Connecticut iarports on the shoreline were flooded,” they wrote. “Tweed’s climate resilience is directly related to substantial FAA investment of over $42 million in the last decade to upgrade the infrastructure.”
Blumenthal has said in a conversation last week, US Airways CEO Doug Parker offered “some measure of reassurance” that US Airways, at least to start, would continue to serve Tweed even if the control tower closes. But he said he knows “for sure that closing the control tower will impede if not stop any expansion of flights that are necessary to really to drive the economic engine of the entire New Haven area.”
The three federal legislators, in another letter to Huerta, expressed “deep concern about the slated closure of the air traffic control tower at Tweed New Haven, along with five additional general aviation control towers throughout the State of Connecticut.”
They said the closures “will put at risk public safety in and around the airspace of Connecticut and the local economies that rely on these facilitates for tax revenue and jobs.”
With regard to Tweed, “public health could be at significant risk should this tower close,” they wrote. “The Tweed tower services Yale-New Haven Hospital, not just for organ donation flights, but also for the Hospital’s helipad. We have been told by local officials that the ‘Life Star’ flights to and from this helipad for medical emergencies could be affected if the tower were to close.
“Tweed also has a relationship with a number of not-for-profit organizations that fly injured veterans from around the country to the nearby West Haven Veterans Affairs facility for treatment,” they wrote. “Moreover, the Tweed tower is a filter for air traffic going into and out of New York’s airports as it services the airspace — some of the busiest in the nation — in Long Island Sound and lower Connecticut.”
Over the years, “the FAA has invested heavily in the Tweed Airport with grants totaling over $70 million for improvements throughout the airport,” DeLauro, Murphy and Blumenthal wrote. “During Hurricane 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.”