Heathrow third-runway decision put on hold

David CameronBritish Prime Minister David Cameron has put the decision of whether to build a third runway at London Heathrow Airport on hold for up to six months, citing concerns about the project’s environmental impact studies.

Britain’s transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, is expected to announce whether or not the decision on Heathrow will be delayed, after a meeting of the ministerial aviation subcommittee on Thursday, Dec. 10. The issue may still need to be discussed at a full cabinet committee meeting. No date was given for that meeting.

This news opens the door for Gatwick Airport, which has been fighting for a runway expansion project of its own. “This is a highly significant intervention by the Environmental Audit Committee just days before the government is expected to make its decision on airport expansion,” said Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport. “The committee questions the entire legal basis of the Airports Commission report on air quality and highlights the many other environmental hurdles facing Heathrow expansion. It is increasingly clear only expansion at Gatwick is legal and can actually happen.”

The delay in this long-debated project keeps both airport options open, and puts Heathrow operators in the position to re-examine the impact on air quality, an issue highlighted by the environmental audit select committee last week. The government could even ban staff from driving to work at Heathrow, insisting that all airside vehicles be electric.

This delay has not been received well by businesses which have demanded that the British government do something to expand Britain’s aviation capacity. The British International Freight Association (BIFA), the Freight Transport Association, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, and the Confederation of British Industry as well as the U.K.’s pilot unions have all supported the Heathrow plan. The BIFA has expressed frustration at the news of the delayed decision.

“If reports are to be believed, this latest possible delay is due to environmental and political issues,” said Robert Keen, the BIFA’s director general. “Whilst I understand the pressures that David Cameron is facing from many senior figures in his own party over the latter, it is difficult to believe that the Airports Commission did not cover all the bases on the former.”

Pictured: British Prime Minister, David Cameron

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