Unless they live in Philadelphia, students heading home this weekend are not likely to use Tweed-New Haven Airport. But a four-phase plan currently in the works might change that in the future.

The plan, already approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, would extend the airport’s runway by 600 feet and add safety areas around it.

Until the new plan is fully implemented, however, airport and city officials will have to try to attract carriers that can land using the existing facilities.

“It’s not a case of ‘if you build a runway, they will come,'” airport manager Rick Lamport said. “If you don’t build it, they can’t come.”

The airport is currently only served by one carrier — U.S. Airways — which flies just a few flights a day to Philadelphia.

The airport created its master plan based on the New England Regional Air Service Study conducted in 1995, Lamport said. The study showed that southern Connecticut had an affluent air-service market, but many of the area airports’ potential customers were going elsewhere for their flights. The other airports involved in the study have grown, Lamport said.

“I think New Haven’s the only one that’s gone backwards,” Lamport said.

Lamport said the Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority developed the plan so the airport can serve major air carriers that have hubs in New England. According to the plan, after all four phases are complete, Tweed could function as a “small hub,” with service to locations as far as 1,000 nautical miles away, such as Chicago, Detroit and Orlando.

All of these steps are designed to increase New Haven’s desirability as a destination for air carriers. The runaway safety areas, once paved, can be used to increase runway takeoff length. The design changes, Lamport said, will help “standardize the airport.”

“With the technology changing and people wanting to go further, you’ve got to change on the ground too,” Lamport said.

East Haven continues to oppose the expansion of the airport. East Haven Town Council Chairman Frank Parlato said expansion “would have a detrimental effect on our town.” He also expressed concerns about disturbing the wetlands near the airport. The town’s vote was the only vote in opposition at the South Central Connecticut Regional Council of Governments, a 15-town organization, which approved the plan last week.

This approval is only a preliminary step in the process. The airport must still hurdle other obstacles, such as environmental assessments. Complete implementation is, at the earliest, many years away.

“This approval moves us one step closer, but there’s many more difficult steps that have to be taken before any runways are extended,” Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Tony Rescigno said.

Until that time, Rescigno said the airport will try “to woo major air carriers with regional jets.” Lamport agreed, saying that the airport is trying to match local passengers’ desired destinations with carriers who have the proper equipment for landing at Tweed now. In the past, the airport has also been served by United Airlines, United Express and Continental Express.

The airport has been pursuing Delta Airlines for the past several months, but no deal has been made.

“While Delta continually reviews its network, there are no plans at this time to expand service to New Haven,” Delta spokesperson Katie Connell said.