As negotiators are still trying to reach a compromise to avoid upcoming federal budget cuts, the potential reductions are getting closer that could impact Connecticut’s six small airports.
Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks would not be cut, but the second busiest airport in the state – Tweed New Haven -and five others could be facing cuts as soon as Sunday, April 7.
The state’s Congressional delegation was notified Wednesday by the Federal Aviation Administration that money for the air traffic controllers at the airports – Sikorsky Memorial, Danbury Municipal, Groton-New London, Hartford-Brainard, and Waterbury-Oxford – could be eliminated under the controversial federal budget process known as sequester. Some lawmakers have complained that difficult cuts should be avoided because this round of cuts represents $85 billion in a $3.6 trillion federal budget – a tiny percentage of the overall total.
“All of our [small] airports are going to be virtually closed to commercial traffic, severely curtailed in their service, to the extraordinary detriment of workers and our communities,” Blumenthal told Capitol Watch in a telephone interview. “So we’re going to work as effectively as possible, as a team, to reverse these decisions. There’s a good argument that Tweed, for example, is an airport with very, very significant prospects for growth and expansion, and economically will be very irreparably impeded in that growth.’’
Tweed was on the original list of about 200 airports that could be impacted, but lawmakers have not yet been told why Tweed is now on the shorter list of those that could be impacted.
“That is the elephant in the room. Why Tweed?’’ Blumenthal asked. “Why should Tweed be curtailed or closed? We want to know which airports are spared and not Tweed. So far, there’s no adequate explanation. I am more than a little dissatisfied. We want the numbers, such as the amount of employees [at each airport], which so far, we don’t have. If Tweed has been sacrificed, as compared to a less busy or promising airport, we want to know why.’’
Blumenthal did not know the precise impact at each airport because sometimes planes land in the middle of the night at smaller airports when no one is in the control tower. Unlike those in major American cities, the smaller airports do not have 24-hour coverage. Landing is often left up to the discretion of the pilot.
“Certainly, there’s an impact on safety,” Blumenthal said. “Whether flights are permissible, certainly safety is jeopardized. We’re asking exactly that question. Namely, whether flights will be permitted if the control towers are closed. Each of the airports may present a different situation.’’
“This move, which is entirely preventable, will have a direct impact on the residents employed by these airports who could lose their jobs, the local economies that rely on these facilities and the safety of our airports,” the seven-member delegation said in a statement. “We will continue our efforts to reverse the sequester and work toward a bipartisan compromise that will avoid these arbitrary, across-the-board cuts that threaten to cause job losses in industries throughout the Connecticut economy.”