The business travel industry has welcomed the decision by the Airports Commission to back expansion at Heathrow but concerns remain around the delivery and potential delays of the project.

Earlier today, the Howard Davies-led Commission published its final report backing a third runway at Heathrow but only if it meets stringent conditions on air quality, noise pollution and carbon emissions.

ITM chairman Mark Cuschieri said despite Heathrow being a “top priority” for the UK economy, it is not enough in the long term and called for the second runway at Gatwick to be given the green light as well.

“The Airports Commission’s decision to back construction of a third runway at Heathrow is positive news. However, the business, aviation and travel sectors must be realistic about progress,” the organisation said in a statement.

“While ITM believes a third runway at Heathrow is top priority for the UK economy… a second runway is also needed at Gatwick, and investment must be made to improve capacity at other airports in the south and across the regions.

“If the UK wants to remain competitive on the international stage expanding our main hub at Heathrow is fundamental.”

The GTMC described the announcement as “hugely positive” for business travellers as well as TMCs and the UK economy.

CEO Paul Wait said: “Expansion at Heathrow will realise the ambition of direct routes to long-haul and, more importantly, emerging markets – therefore negating the need to travel via other hubs across Europe which has been a long standing issue as a barrier to international trade.

“With the focus on Heathrow it is also important to recognise the role that Gatwick can play in delivering additional capacity. Whilst it does have capacity for long haul there is often a reliance on connecting hubs which means business travel is more of a challenge,” Wait added.

‘Build consensus’

Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate said his airport is “still very much in the race”. In May, he warned that expansion at Heathrow would be “unlawful” as it would further breach air pollution limits.

He said this morning: “The Commission’s report makes clear that expansion at Gatwick is deliverable It is for the Commission to make a recommendation but it is of course for the government to decide.

“So we now enter the most important stage of the process. We are confident that when the government makes that decision they will choose Gatwick as the only deliverable option.

“For instance, this report highlights the very significant environmental challenges at Heathrow such as air quality and noise impact. Gatwick will give the country the economic benefits it needs and at the same time impact far less people.”

Both ABTA support the announcement but said the government must act quickly upon the recommendations and not let political figures delay progress.

Dale Keller, chief executive of BAR UK said: “The Government now needs to evaluate the independent findings of the Airports Commission and to expediently act upon their recommendations.

“Now is the time for everyone, including politicians of all parties, to pull together in the national interest and support the bold plans to expand and improve airport infrastructure at Heathrow,” he said.

ABTA CEO Mark Tanzer said: “Today’s announcement is the first step towards the delivery of urgently needed capacity at the UK’s hub airport and we now look forward to the Government’s response.

“We call on Government to work across party boundaries and create a robust political consensus which will deliver this recommendation for UK businesses, and passengers. ABTA will be working with the Government, as well as the opposition front benches to help build consensus.”

‘Catastrophic’

The government has said it will take time to study the report before making a final decision which is expected in the autumn. The British Air Transport Association (BATA CEO Nathan Stower.

“Airlines will work with Government to ensure that their decision meets the needs of passengers and cargo customers.”

London mayor Boris Johnson has told The BBC that a new runway at Heathrow would have a “catastrophic” effect on the city. “This is the sort of thing you could have got away with in China in the 1950s,” he said, adding that the impact in terms of the environment and noise would be “so huge” that it was “not deliverable”.

MP Zac Goldsmith said he stands by his pledge to resign if expansion at Heathrow goes ahead. “A decision in favour of Heathrow expansion is really just a decision in favour of delay and fudge,” he added.

The Commission said that a second runway at Gatwick was a “credible” option but was less able to provide connections to long-haul destinations and would create lower levels of economic growth.

A third option for extending the runways at Heathrow was rejected.

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