Incoming prime minister Theresa May must make a decision on which new runway to support by October if the expansion timetable set out by the Airports Commission is to be met.
The warning came from transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin following a series of delays on expanding airport capacity in the south-east.
The Airports Commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, published its final report in July last year stating that a new runway was needed in south-east England by 2030, recommending that Heathrow's plan should go ahead.
The Department for Transport announced in December that further investigation into noise, pollution and compensation was needed.
McLoughlin last month said the decision had been deferred until "at least October" following David Cameron's resignation.
The transport secretary stressed the importance of the decision being made as soon as possible.
McLoughlin told the Press Association: "So long as we can get a decision as quickly as we can in October, we can still stick to the timetable that was set out in Davies."
The timing of the decision was "a case for the prime minister", he said, adding: "Parliament rises next week so in all honesty I still think we're probably looking at around about the October period.
"I don't think this is a decision that could be made when Parliament is not sitting."
Cameron was expected to confirm whether projects at Heathrow or Gatwick would be supported shortly after the EU referendum, but the Brexit vote means the decision has been left for May.
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