Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Is Tweed biting the hand that feeds? The mood of most Airport Authority board members and Tweed staff was noticeably cheery as they rushed into an executive session at the November board of directors meeting. In that session the board voted 11-2, with one abstention, to file a lawsuit against the State of Connecticut. At issue is the crux of the current airport expansion debate: the 2009 Tweed Airport Authority Act [C.G.S. §15-120j(c)], based upon the 2009 memorandum of agreement (MOA).
“5600 feet is not enough!” cries Tweed, whenever times look rough for the airport. In the mind of airport expansionists, no new commercial air service will come to Tweed without first paving the Runway Safety Areas to reach 6000-6600 feet. There are many reasons to suspect that this is a dubious argument, not the least of which is this quote from the June 2015 minutes:
Mr. Reich outlined that he and Ms. Jackson met with seven airlines at Jumpstart and two have a significant interest in serving Tweed. One of which is not concerned with the RSA being paved. The remaining airlines stated they would investigate further in and when the RSA’s are paved but not until then. One of the airlines that showed interest would explore flights to Florida 3-5 times a week. They are not concerned about the RSA’s and actually consider it an asset as their regional jets are able to land and take-off while others do not have that ability providing the airline with the security of little to no competition for passengers.
Tweed’s new lawsuit, however, portrays the 5600 foot limitation (and perhaps other parts of the Airport Authority Act) as a direct threat to the airport’s continued existence. Even if that were true, Tweed’s neighbors would be wise to oppose any litigation or legislation that alters the Act. As residents have seen in the past two decades (or more), Tweed will never be happy with 6000, or 6600, or 10 thousand feet.
Apparently, the airport is willing to sue its primary benefactor, the State of Connecticut, to get the expansion train rolling again. Not only is this a risky move from a legal standpoint (Tweed may certainly lose in court), but moderate supporters of Tweed might join the chorus against expansion now that the airport’s brazen attitude toward taxpayers is laid bare. To add insult to injury, the lawsuit has been announced during the State budget crisis.
We’re taking a proactive stance against this shocking move by Tweed with our #5600ft campaign. Please share your opinions with that hashtag and contact us if you’re interested in a more direct role in organizing.
Full text of the announcement of the lawsuit, in below. We don’t take credit for the sloppiness, as the press release portion was obviously rushed out by the airport.
At its regularly scheduled Board of Directors meeting today, the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority voted to bring a lawsuit against the State of Connecticut that seeks a determination that the state statute which limits the length of the main runway at Tweed to 5,600 feet is illegal,” (sic) according to John Picard, the chair of the Authority’s Board of Directors. This case is to be filed in U.S. District Court in the next week.
Hugh Manke of Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, counsel to the Authority, explained that “federal statutes pre-empt any state action that interferes with federal control of air service facilities and safety plans for airports in the national commercial air service system.” “Runway length”, he added, “has a direct bearing on service and safety, and federal statutes clearly place those matters exclusively in the hands of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).”
Tim Larson, Executive Director of the Authority, described Tweed as “an airport at a critical juncture. Commercial carriers are interested in servicing the Southern Connecticut market but will not consider coming to Tweed until the runway is lengthened.” “in addition,” he said, “our current carrier, American (formerly US Airways), may discontinue our existing service when in the next few years they replace the current Dash-8 aircraft with planes that require a longer runway.”
“More than $35 million of public funds have been invested in this airport,” Larson said, “and that investment makes no sense if there is no commercial service here.”
“The airlines are telling us they need a minimum runway length of 6,000 feet and that they prefer 6,600 feet to accommodate wind and weather conditions. We can do either extension within the existing boundary of the airport,” Larson said.
An environmental assessment would be the first step after the statutory limit is lifted by the court,” (sic) Manke said. “Public hearings are a standard part of the process of evaluating the environmental assessment and of pursuing various permits that may be required.”
“Some board members have asked what changed since 2009 when the statute was passed,” Larson said. “The answer is that the market has changed and we need to respond to the market. We are staying within our footprint, and Tweed’s Master Plan which was adopted many years ago calls for an extension of the runway if the market requires it.” “Merger of airlines has narrowed the choice of aircraft and of service options, and Tweed needs to respond with a longer runway.”
“Easy access to the national commercial air service network is important to the liability of the Airport and to the continued growth of the New Haven region. The next step toward making that happen is to win the lawsuit.”
Approval of Lawsuit Seeking Declaratory Judgment
November 18, 2015
WHEREAS the Authority is charged with the management and operation of Tweed New Haven Airport pursuant to Sec. 15-120g et seq. of the Connecticut General Statutes, as amended; and
WHEREAS Connecticut General Statutes Section 15-120j(c) restricts the main runway at Tweed to 5,600 linear feet based on circumstances in 2009 when it was believed that the current runway length was sufficient to attract scheduled commercial carriers to serve Tweed from destinations such as Orlando, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.; and
WHEREAS repeated discussions with air carriers in the past six years have made it clear that the aircraft which are owned by air carriers interested in serving Tweed’s market require a longer runway to operate safely; and
WHEREAS due to the phasing out of the Dash-8 aircraft in the next two years, American Airlines is likely to require a longer runway to provide any scheduled air service at Tweed; and
WHEREAS the Authority wishes to seek a declaratory ruling from the U.S. District Court that Connecticut General Statutes Section 15-120j(c) is illegal and invalid because Federal law provides that control over the nation’s airspace, including determinations as to the length and character of runways and taxiways, is exclusively within the jurisdiction of the federal government, and state governments are pre-empted from making such determinations; and
WHEREAS success in this lawsuit will enable the Authority to conduct an Environmental Assessment, with opportunity for public hearings, of the impacts of paving a portion of the Runway Safety Areas and seek approval from the FAA, the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and other agencies, as required.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority, having discussed the current statutory obstacle to lengthening the runway, and having reviewed various political and legal options, and having been advised by counsel, now vote to file suit against the State in Federal court seeking a declaratory judgment invalidating Connecticut General Statutes Section 15-120j(c).
Airport Authority Press Release & Resolution, November 18, 2015