It's time to have a "fact-based debate" about the future of UK airport capacity, particularly in the southeast, according to transport secretary Justine Greening.
She was speaking on a visit to open a £100 million new terminal at Southend airport ahead of the publication of a discussion paper on the government’s aviation policy later this month.
Admitting that "there aren't any easy answers," Greening told the BBC: "It's a very complex question but we need to get on with a process which helps resolve these issues."
"We've got to make sure there is the level of capacity at our airports that we need, not just in the next 10 to 15 years but the next 20 to 30 years.
"We are getting to the stage where there is a question mark over whether we've got the capacity to meet the country's needs.
"In the short term we've always been clear that we need to make the most of the capacity we do have. We need to use what we've got better and more effectively and we're looking at how we do that, but we also need to look ahead."
She would not be drawn on whether the ultimate conclusion of this consultation will be a call for more runways or a new airport. But she did rule out a third runway at Heathrow which is "not the right answer".
Greening said the debate must be based on "real facts and figures and details around logistics, operations and airspace - then we'll have some of the information we need to make the right decision".
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