NEW HAVEN – Gathered on the tarmac of Tweed New Haven Airport on Tuesday, state officials celebrated a new flight between New Haven and Puerto Rico alongside airport staff — while in front of the terminal, blocked from entering, New Haven and East Haven residents protested the planned expansion of the airport and questioned why the flight was added before the completion of an environmental review
Starting Nov. 15, the new flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico will serve as the 18th nonstop destination out of Tweed, and as the airport’s first Caribbean destination.
Gov. Ned Lamont, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker and other officials stood beside an Avelo Airline 737 aircraft thanking Avelo and Tweed staff for their commitment to providing affordable air travel in Connecticut.
“We have some of the lowest airfares not only in the region, but in the country right here,” said Lamont. “A lot of that is thanks to Avelo and some of the other discount airlines that are making Connecticut their home.”
Elicker said the Greater New Haven area is home to 25,000 Puerto Ricans, and the new flights would not only deepen New Haven’s connection with Puerto Rico, but also create jobs for Connecticut and San Juan residents alike.
“It also is creating so many jobs for people in the community that they love,” Elicker said. “And I hear that everytime I come here that the folks that are working here love these jobs, and it’s providing a lot more support for our community.”
But in front of the terminal, as a group of police officers and airport staff blocked the entrance, residential Tweed neighbors held signs protesting the new flight and planned expansion of the airport, and questioned the community benefits.
When the airport first announced the expansion and partnership with Avelo in 2021, Tweed officials said the project would result in the creation of “thousands of local jobs.”
One of the protesters, New Haven resident Gabriela Campos, told CT Examiner that she was doubtful that the new flight to Puerto Rico or the airport expansion would significantly benefit the local job market.
“Are they part time jobs? Are they full time jobs? Are they living-wage jobs?” Campos asked. “Because what I see here is a lot of part time jobs.”
Under the expansion, Tweed would construct a new terminal, additional parking and extend the runway into East Haven. Interested residents and Tweed officials alike are currently awaiting a decision from the FAA on an environmental assessment of the proposed construction, which highlighted additional “economic development opportunities” for New Haven and East Haven.
Residents protesting the expansion also questioned whether the additional flights out of southern Connecticut could make up for the potential damage to nearby wetlands, air quality and resident health.
The FAA environmental assessment was released in March and predicted few significant impacts to the nearby environment and residents. But residents, environmentalists, and local officials, including East Haven Mayor Joseph Carfora, State Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven and State Sen. Paul Cicarella, R-East Haven, have since called for an environmental impact statement – a further evaluation of the proposed expansion’s impacts.
Gretl Gallicchio – a member of 10,000 Hawks, a neighborhood group opposing the Tweed expansion – said the protesters did not intend to disrupt the Tweed event. Rather, she said, they wanted to be a part of the conversation.
“That’s what the signs are for – so that we’re not shouting out and we’re not disrupting, but we are somehow adding our voices or our message to the discussion with a political figure, specifically with Governor Lamont,” Gallicchio said of the group’s intentions.
She said that by presenting the new flight to San Juan simply as a benefit to Connecticut’s and Puerto Rico’s economies, Connecticut and Tweed officials were distorting the full truth, and the protesters wanted to widen the conversation.
“Our hope had been to at least expand the message to include considerations of environmental and health impacts,” she said.
Gallicchio questioned why Tweed is continuing to expand airport services when the FAA has not yet decided whether they are going to accept the current environmental assessment and allow the new construction, or require further studies.
“What do we have environmental reviews for if, really, the sky’s the limit?” Gallicchio said.
Protesters said they tried to register for the event online, but upon arrival were told by airport staff that they were not allowed to enter the terminal because they were not members of the press.
During the event, Blumenthal, State Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, and State Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, continued to thank Tweed for furthering the connection between Connecticut and Puerto Rico, while musicians from Movimiento Cultural Afro-Continental – whose mission is to share Puerto Rican culture through music – sang and danced.
Blumenthal said Connecticut has an “allegiance” to Puerto Rico because it has 300,000 residents of Puerto Rican heritage – the highest concentration of any state. Similar to Lamont and Elicker, he also pointed to potential economic benefits from the new flight.
“Today is really a banner day for Connecticut [and] for the country because it will mean a boost to the economy of Puerto Rico, as well as our own in tourism, in economic connection,” Blumenthal said.