A decision on whether Britain will expand airport capacity around London will be taken by the next government, the country's new transport secretary said on Friday, meaning a decision is unlikely before 2015.
A commission chaired by former Financial Services Authority head Howard Davies to examine ways to expand airport capacity in southeast England will report in the summer of 2015 after releasing an interim report next year, Patrick McLoughlin wrote in his first ministerial statement as transport secretary.
Several options are being considered to increase the southeast of England's strained airport capacity: a third runway at London's Heathrow airport; a second at Stansted northeast of London, or a new airport in the estuary of the river Thames.
"This is a very difficult debate, but the reality is that since the 1960s Britain has failed to keep pace with our international competitors in addressing long term aviation capacity and connectivity needs," wrote McLoughlin.
"A decision on whether to support any of the recommendations contained in the final report will be taken by the next government."
Britain's Conservative-led coalition government had ruled out building a third runway at BAA's capacity-constrained Heathrow before the next election, in part to appease the junior Liberal Democrat partners and boost its green credentials.
However, several Conservative ministers have called for a third runway to be built at Heathrow.
McLoughlin's appointment as transport secretary earlier this week - replacing Justine Greening, a vocal critic of a third runway at Heathrow - indicated it could rethink its opposition to airport expansion in southeast England.