George W. Bush, Queen Elizabeth II and Frank Sinatra may all have landed at Tweed-New Haven Airport, but most students are still waiting for their chance.

Airport officials said New Haven’s 75-year old airport — which offers direct flights to Philadelphia only — currently captures less than one percent of its potential market and is one of only a handful of comparable airports nationwide to have a runway under 6,000 feet long. Tweed is taking its first steps in decades to improve infrastructure, however, and hopes to offer direct flights to locations as far as Chicago and Florida within the next 20 years.

But that plan does not sit well with opponents of airport expansion, including the city of East Haven, who expressed concerns over increased noise and air pollution and the destruction of local wetlands.

New Haven Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy said Tweed could play a crucial role in boosting the region’s economy in the future if it is able to develop. Tweed-New Haven may have a better chance to improve in the coming years, she said, as the state is looking to develop a second major airport in addition to Hartford’s Bradley International Airport.

“The state is looking at a two-airport strategy at the state level,” she said. “When people are looking to make business locations, they might [be more inclined to] pick an area that has an airport nearby.”

But East Haven Mayor Joe Maturo said the region’s transportation network is not sufficiently developed to support a large increase in passenger traffic to and from Tweed. Maturo said he sees hypocrisy in the conflicting desires of self-described liberals — including Yale students — who want direct flights to convenient locations but overlook serious environmental concerns.

“What upsets me the most is people who talk out of both sides of their mouths,” he said. “[Environmentalists] will go in front of trolleys and oil tankers to disrupt them, [but] I have not seen them one time protesting airports for filling in the wetlands.”

The airport’s land is owned by the city of New Haven, but parts of it lie on the boundary between New Haven and East Haven.

According to a study published in 2002 by the University of Connecticut, the successful implementation of the “Master Plan” — a four-phase program to overhaul the airport’s infrastructure —would increase annual airport traffic to nearly 640,000 outbound passengers by 2019. Outbound traffic would only rise to 147,000 over the same period if the airport made just the required improvements to comply with FAA regulations that must be met by 2012. An expanded Tweed would also create 4,332 new jobs.

Tweed-New Haven Airport Manager Rick Lamport said the facility needs to lengthen its 5,600-foot runway if it is to attract more airline carriers and allow for a larger array of flight destinations. But the airport first needs to create a Runway Safety Area on either end of the runway, which is the first phase of the four-stage Master Plan, he said. Tweed is one of eight airports in the country to have a runway length of under 6,000 feet, out of the United States’ 400 commercial airports that serve more than 10,000 passengers a year.

“We have a huge, untapped market that is being shared all over the place because we have a lack of infrastructure,” he said. “1,000 feet of [extra] runway will get us to Florida.”

On Wednesday night, airport officials held a public hearing to discuss community and environmental concerns regarding the construction of a runway safety zone.

Lamport said that in the current runway configuration, large aircraft such as Boeing 747s are able to take off and land at Tweed, and they have before. But an airport’s runway length determines how much weight an airline can put into its airplanes — including fuel and passengers — and so Tweed’s short runway limits the airport’s radius range and the airlines’ profit margins. Extra runway length would allow for flights to major hubs east of the Mississippi River, with connecting flights to destinations around the world.

Lawrence DeNardis, chairman of the New Haven Airport Authority, said it is difficult for Tweed to expand any more from its current configuration because of its saturated residential surroundings. But he said the initiatives laid out in the Master Plan offer a realistic expansion project, which he hopes will garner support from the New Haven and East Haven communities.

“We are surrounded on all sides by residential development, and as long as one of the two cities that bounds the airport continues to be not supportive of expansion, they have a certain capacity to slow the growth,” he said. “But we have made major strides since 2000.”

But members of the local community agreed with Maturo, saying that while they are not especially disturbed by the current levels of noise and air pollution, they worry that an increase in air traffic would significantly deteriorate living conditions in the neighborhoods surrounding the airport.

“The frequency of flights isn’t a level that my husband and I have been bothered by, but it is an issue that worries us,” one East Haven resident said. “If you are in your home, you can certainly hear it. With increased flights in and out, it would become a level that would be a nuisance.”

Unlike Bradley Airport, which is a state airport, Tweed-New Haven is a municipal facility funded largely by the city of New Haven. It receives $900,000 from New Haven and $600,000 from the state each year, and the city Airport Authority has reached out to other organizations — including Yale — for help with projects such as attracting Delta Airlines to Tweed in 2004.

Yale Vice President of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander, who sits on the Airport Authority, said the University will support Tweed-New Haven in its efforts to develop.

“The University, in conjunction with the community, will continue to play an active role in supporting Tweed Airport, as the airport provides important support for economic development,” he said. “The University would like to see the safety overrun zones put in place, and we would like to see more commuter flights.”

Alexander said the only time the University has offered financial support to the airport was in its endeavor to bring Delta Airlines to New Haven. But Tweed’s only carrier is currently U.S. Airways, after Delta halted service to the airport in January 2006.