Commercial Drones PilotsTweed Deal Pilots Take Long View

August 27, 2021by helo-10

Jorge Roberts can picture hydrogen-powered, passenger-filled, autonomous airplanes — aka “drones for adults” — descending and ascending at Tweed New Haven one day without needing a runway.

These airplanes have a name: “electrical vertical take-off and landing vehicles.”

They don’t exist yet. The race is on to develop and build them. It will be years upon years, if not decades, before they’d actually appear at New Haven’s airport.

Roberts is thinking in those terms. He’s taking the long view.

Roberts is the CEO of Avports, a private subsidiary of Goldman Sachs that manages 10 commercial airports and military airfields across the country. Including Tweed. His company has struck a tentative deal — subject to public approvals — to continue managing the airport for another 43 years and pump an alleged $70 million into upgrading it. (Read more about that here and here.)

Roberts and Sean Scanlon, executive director of the Tweed Airport Authority, with which Avports contracts, discussed the details of that deal Tuesday during an appearance on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.

In the process, they described their vision for the airport’s future, not just in the Jetsons age when “adult drones” fall out of the sky, but when specific plans are set to take flight in coming months, then in upcoming years.

The first change: A new budget airline called Avelo plans to start flying daily to four Florida cities in November. (Read about that here.) Scanlon is hoping to win approval Wednesday night from New Haven’s City Plan Commission for the site plan for $5 million in initial terminal improvements to enable the service to launch.

First Leisure. Then Business, Too?

Avelo’s announcement thrilled longtime supporters of increased air service at Tweed.

The announcement had one surprising element: Yale and biotech employers weren’t part of the picture making and cheering on the announcement.

That’s because the new service doesn’t address the prime argument those airport boosters have advanced for decades: That Tweed needs to expand in order to lure commercial flights to business-oriented destination, and therefore create jobs in New Haven. The new Avelo flights are geared toward people who want to go on sunny vacations, not to climate-controlled Powerpoint presentations.

“The majority of the demand is on leisure. People want to go to Florida,” Roberts said. “They want to go to Disney World and the beaches.”

“The legacy carriers focus more on that corporate travel. Also they’re network carriers. They’re pulling out of secondary airports. That leaves an opportunity for new entrants like Avelo,” he noted.

In fact, Tweed’s only current commercial flyer, American Airlines, is expected to end flying out of Tweed next month. The airline is apparently not making money on business-oriented flights to Philadelphia — just as in the past, service from Tweed to cities like Chicago didn’t last long.

Scanlon said American’s departure is not certain. But if it occurs, he said, it would result from specific market conditions: “American has a lot of problems right now. If you look at their last quarterly earnings, they are lagging behind the other legacy carriers,” Scanlon said. “Legacy carriers lost a ton of money during Covid.”

Thomas Breen PhotoHe and Roberts said they see business travel as part of the mix as they build on the new Avelo flights from Tweed. They would like to see flights to more destinations, including D.C.. They envision both leisure and business flights to serve a region of a million people who constitute one of the nation’s most underserved markets.

“It’s not an either-or,” Scanlon said.

Scanlon said a “chicken-and-egg problem” explains past business-oriented service failures at Tweed: Airlines said they needed a longer runway. State law prevented Tweed from expanding the runway.

“We never had the infrastructure to move it forward,” Scanlon said. Now, thanks to a 2020 Supreme Court ruling, the matter is settled: Tweed can lengthen the runway, and it now plans to, from 5,600 to 6,635 feet.

The duo said their plans definitely do not include freight service out of Tweed. Opponents of the expansion, including several posting questions during the radio program, fear that story will change in the future, especially with the presence of two nearby Amazon warehouses.

Guarantees & The Environment

AvportsScanlon and Roberts are not expected to serve in their current roles 30 years from now, when this deal would still be in effect. How can people have confidence that the no-freight promise, or other promises, will remain in effect under new leadership that didn’t make those promises?

Asked that question, Scanlon said the 43-year deal will include safeguards that protect the public interest. He said he can’t release those details yet because they’re not written down in a final agreement. The terms of the agreement remain to be negotiated between the authority and Avports after the project wins its government approvals, including a Board of Alders approval of a 43-year lease between the city (which owns Tweed) and the airport authority.

Roberts and Scanlon said they also have both shorter- and longer-term plans to incorporate more environmentally friendly practices into the way the airport is run. Roberts said his company is looking into charging stations that would enable Tweed and other Avport-run airports to convert ground fleets to electric vehicles. Scanlon is promising to craft a carbon-neutral plan for the airport’s expansion. The industry, the pair said, is in the midst of a wholesale reexamination of its carbon footprint.

That said, Scanlon also noted that airplanes contribute an estimated 2 percent to climate change. And “we’re not at a point as a country of getting rid of airplanes.” Scanlon has been knocking on doors of the airport’s neighbors in New Haven’s Morris Cove neighborhood and in East Haven; while vocal opponents may dominate public debates, the majority of neighbors actually support the expansion, he maintained.

AvportsClick on the video of the episode to watch Robert and Scanlon elaborate on their plans for Tweed and answer a steady stream of questions posed by airport expansion opponents during their appearance on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven.” The public is also invited to a meeting with Tweed brass at Nathan Hale School Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. to discuss the expansion plans; questions can be asked in person, while others can watch the proceedings here.

posted by: Patricia Kane on August 25, 2021  11:11am

“Asked that question, Scanlon said the 43-year deal will include safeguards that protect the public interest. He said he can’t release those details yet because they’re not written down in a final agreement. The terms of the agreement remain to be negotiated between the authority and Avports after the project wins its government approvals, including a Board of Alders approval of a 43-year lease between the city (which owns Tweed) and the airport authority.”
  So approve this first and then we’ll work out the details?
  Or maybe it’s about trust?
  Sure looks like a flim flam to me.
  “Anonymous” can disparage the opposition, but the proposed contract and the inclusion of the City’s delegation of its powers of eminent domain set off alarms, as do the unnecessarily long period of the contract.
  Have the Mayors of New Haven or East Haven put their legal teams to work on this? Where? Why the silence?

posted by: Heather C. on August 25, 2021  1:34pm

Jorge Roberts & Sean Scanlon of Avports/Avelo decided on Florida destinations based on a general public destination popularity poll of whoever decided to enter the raffle/poll they publicized in the media.
That is not the way to determine what business oriented destinations the Greater New Haven and shoreline towns from the RI to NY borders would need for their businesses. Their executives are not entering a publicity stunt popularity poll to voice their airline needs. The airport Executives should professionally poll the business community to figure out what the demand is for businesses so they can add service to those destinations.
(And the reason the Chicago flights ended was the shorter runway required smaller planes with less than full passenger and luggage loads for takeoffs and landings, which wasn’t profitable for the airline, plus CT was in a different place economically at that time.)
I’m pretty sure if Avports polled all the CT businesses that need airline service on a regular basis and would be likely to choose Tweed over Bradley or NY/NJ or Boston airports due to proximity and ease of getting to the airport, they would discover that we need a DC/MidAtlantic service, and a Chicago/Midwest service, and include a major airline hub destination to make connecting service flights to the West Coast and to International destinations.

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