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Breaking the mould: Tweed New Haven Airport


Avports’ investment in Connecticut’s Tweed New Haven Airport shows that public-private partnerships can work for smaller US gateways, writes the company’s CEO, Jorge Roberts, and chief operating officer, Arturo Garcia-Alonso.

Over the past 95 years, our team at Avports (formerly Pan Am World Services) has contributed to growth and continuity at over 30 small airport communities, including 47 continuous years managing Westchester County Airport (HPN) and 51 years at Teterboro Airport (TEB) to name a few.

In the US, there are more than 5,000 small airports and aerodromes, some of these struggle to survive. In most cases, these facilities are located in regions with high air travel demand, which have been historically underserved.

Just getting the project started requires vision, key partnerships, patience, and perseverance, and then, committed and focused work.

Regional airports are challenging and complex in their own way, but they also provide unique opportunities for growth. Our experience with Tweed New Haven Airport (HVN) – for decades one of the most underserved airports in the US – provides a case study of how a public-partnership can be structured to achieve the aforementioned objectives and results.

The vision

During the nineties, HVN showed great success in leveraging air travel demand and opportunities by attracting regional air carriers and commuters for the main legacy carriers, connecting key large hubs with New Haven, such as Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington and Newark.

However, in the wake of 9/11 and with several waves of airline consolidation, the passenger traffic consistently decreased as legacy airlines rationalised their operations. The decline eventually led to HVN becoming arguably the most underserved airport in the country considering its location in one of the most densely population regions of the US – Tweed New Haven is located about 60 miles south of Hartford’s Bradley International (BDL) and 80 miles northeast of New York’s LaGuardia (LGA) and John F Kennedy (JFK) airports.

In spite of this environment, Tweed New Haven Airport Authority and Avports believed in the tremendous opportunities of the airport.

Indeed, data showed the Southern Connecticut region is among the top three most underserved markets in the United States, and HVN is the perfect airport to serve this market. The challenge was HVN’s constrained infrastructure and facilities, including a short runway, prevented the airport from serving this demand.

We were not the only ones with a bullish vision for HVN. In 2020, during the most damaging times of the pandemic, when most companies were still trying to adjust to the ‘new normal’, we came to an agreement with Andrew Levy (former co-founder of Allegiant) and his newly formed team at Avelo, which were developing a new US-based ultra-low cost airline with the vision of establishing their base at New Haven.

The result is a fascinating story of air traffic growth at regional airports – going from zero traffic to more than 14 destinations in its first year of operation at HVN.

Key partnerships

The cornerstone of this project (or any project) is aligning all key stakeholders into a shared vision for the airport, including the Mayors of New Haven and East Haven, the Governor and other elected officials, union leaders and the business and residential communities.

Under the new 43-year public-partnership agreement (PPP or P3)between the airport authority and Avports, we assumed the risk and responsibility for all HVN’s operating expenses and any ongoing deficits, eliminating all local subsidies and saving taxpayers money.

This includes eliminating the historical subsidies of nearly $2 million per year (or more than $30 million over the past 20-years) from the City of New Haven and the State of Connecticut to fund HVN’s operation and capital projects.

Avports is also making significant investments into the airport in the form of an extended runway and a modern, environmentally-friendly terminal, which will be built in the coming years. At the conclusion of our lease, these improved assets will revert to the full control and ownership of the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority and the community it serves.

Simply put, this is a first of its kind hybrid partnership in the US between the public and private sector. The structure of this hybrid partnership is a key precedent and could provide the needed flexibility for US airports that are operating at a deficit or need to develop their infrastructure to meet the market demand.

Patience and perseverance

Getting to this point took time to develop the trust and align objectives with key stakeholders and the broader community.

We have kept an open line of communication with partners by not only having an open invitation to communicate ideas and concerns, but also proactively engaging stakeholders on a regular basis, including hosting multiple community meetings, ensuring everyone’s voice could be heard.

For example, in response to the airport’s surrounding community input, we have worked with our airline partners to limit the size of the planes as well as landing and take-off hours of operations. We also committed to investing $3.25 million in noise reduction for neighbouring residents, above and beyond existing FAA resources.

A new beginning

When Avelo arrived at HVN, it marked the first time in the last 30-years that the airport simultaneously served more than two destinations. Since then, Avelo has flown more than 600,000 customers to and from New Haven and has 180 New Haven-based crew members, for a total of 300 new direct and indirect jobs, with more jobs to come.

And with 14 non-stop destinations and growing, Avelo is now one of the leading airlines serving Connecticut.

Throughout Avelo’s growth, HVN has held numerous local job fairs to help fill positions with the airline, and also with us at Avports. The response has been tremendous from local jobseekers, showing the energy and excitement – and also the need – for the kind of promising economic development HVN is now providing for Southern Connecticut.

The future

This P3 at HVN represents a once in a generation opportunity for this region with the best yet to come.

The next major step will be lengthening the runway to a length of 6,635 feet – a number that was recommended in the airports adopted masterplan to allow existing aircraft to reach farther destinations.

Avports will also build a new, modern and environmentally sustainable passenger terminal on the east side of the airport. This facility will be carbon-neutral and follow LEED principles, reducing HVN’s carbon footprint and positioning the airport as one of the most sustainable regional airports in the world.

It will provide high efficiency climate control systems, renewable energy sources, and re-engineered waste and recycling programmes, underscoring the airport’s comprehensive and holistic approach to sustainability.

The new passenger terminal will also develop direct and indirect stable jobs, including good-paying construction jobs through a project labour agreement (PLA) with the local trades, while also generating more jobs from the economic spillover the airport will stimulate.

We’ve only just begun to bring our bold vision to life; there remains much work to be done, but our successes so far have yielded a model that can be replicated by other airports in the US and beyond.

Working closely with key stakeholders, responding to community concerns, prioritising the needs of the region, and moving forward swiftly and decisively creates results that benefit real people.