- Associated Press - Saturday, March 18, 2017

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A dispute between Tweed-New Haven Airport and the state government over a Connecticut law that limits the length of the airport’s main runway is headed to a one-day trial before a federal magistrate judge.

The no-jury trial is set for Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Hartford and pits federal aviation law against state statutes.

Airport officials are suing the state over the 2009 state law that limits Tweed’s main runway to its current 5,600 feet. They say the law has prevented Tweed from drawing more commercial airlines and flights because the runway is too short for most commercial planes to take off. Officials want to lengthen Runway 2/20 to about 7,200 feet on existing airport property, which the airport leases from the city of New Haven.

They also say the law is threatening the airport’s only current commercial service - daily flights to Philadelphia by American Airlines. Officials note that the small Dash 8 twin-engine turboprops used by American, which can carry only 39 people, are one of the few commercial planes that can take off from Tweed’s shorter runway and that American will soon be replacing them with aircraft that require longer runways.

“We need a longer runway to be safer and to provide the level of service that the federal investment in the airport warrants,” said the airport’s lawyer, Hugh Manke. “People that live in southwest-central Connecticut have the fewest (flight) options in the country.”

Manke said the Federal Aviation Administration has spent close to $40 million over the years on improvements to Tweed. Meanwhile, residents primarily use airports in New York or Bradley International Airport north of Hartford.

In court documents, the state attorney general’s office has defended the 2009 law and denied Tweed’s allegations that the law is unconstitutional. A spokesman for the attorney general’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit and upcoming trial.

The Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority runs the airport, which lies in both New Haven and East Haven near Long Island Sound, and argues that the 2009 law violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which invalidates state laws that interfere with federal laws. The airport authority says the FAA has exclusive sovereignty over all airspace and airport regulation in the U.S.

In 2002, the state and the FAA approved a master plan for Tweed that included extending the main runway to 7,200 feet. But the 2009 law is preventing the airport from following through on that plan, Manke said.

When the 2009 law was passed as part of a large state budget bill, New Haven-area lawmakers said they were concerned a longer runway and more air traffic at Tweed would harm quality of life and the environment.

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