The bosses of Heathrow and Gatwick have met new transport secretary Chris Grayling for the first time to hear their arguments for expansion.
The meetings signal that the government is edging towards the controversial decision about where to build a new runway in the south-east of England, the Sunday Telegraph reported.
Former prime minister David Cameron had pledged to choose between the two airports this summer but his resignation and the political turmoil caused by the Brexit vote meant an announcement about expansion was postponed until the autumn.
The delay has piled pressure on his successor Theresa May to tackle the contentious issue.
Grayling is understood to have held lengthy meetings with Heathrow, Gatwick and Heathrow Hub – the independent scheme to lengthen one of the west London airport’s existing runways – earlier this month.
The encounters marked the first time that the heads of the three competing expansion plans had met Grayling since he became transport secretary and gave the bosses an opportunity to present their cases directly to him.
The meetings, which took place at the airports, will raise hopes the government will stick to its pledge of resolving the expansion issue this autumn, rather than allow further delay.
It is thought Cameron had been poised to approve Heathrow's third runway before her resigned. Heathrow’s chances were boosted last year after the Airports Commission concluded a third runway was the best solution to the looming capacity crunch.
The owners of Heathrow, which include the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar and China, want to build a £17.6 billion third runway, while Gatwick, controlled by Global Infrastructure Partners, is fighting to build a second landing strip costing an estimated £7.1 billion.
Heathrow Hub, led by former Concorde pilot Jock Lowe and backed by individuals including financier Ian Hannam, is proposing an alternative scheme to extend Heathrow’s northern runway, which has a £13.4 billion price tag. Businesses across the UK want the government to choose between the schemes and push ahead with expansion.
But expansion of either airport faces opposition among residents concerned about noise and air pollution. While many MPs support Heathrow, foreign secretary Boris Johnson vehemently opposes its expansion, as does education secretary Justine Greening.
May, whose Maidenhead constituency is overflown by Heathrow aircraft, has expressed past opposition. Heathrow, Gatwick and Heathrow Hub declined to comment.
The Department for Transport told the newspaper: “We continue to engage with the three promoters ahead of a decision and it is entirely appropriate and reasonable to meet with them.”
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