Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye has said expansion of the airport has always been the only option to solve the southeast’s capacity issues.

In an interview with the Guardian, the chief executive of the hub airport says the current political focus on Britain’s membership of the EU has taken the focus off the runway debate.

But he is confident that the latest objection to Heathrow gaining a third runway – air quality and pollution – will be overcome.

“It’s always been the only answer that will work for the UK, so if it doesn’t happen now, it will come back another time. All the stars are aligned; we just need to get the political bandwidth to make it happen,” he told the newspaper.

Holland-Kaye said gaining government acceptance that there does need to be additional capacity was a “big step forward” and he is confident that expansion can happen and the airport can remain within legal limits for air quality and noise pollution.

But, pointing out that the airport is ready to sign contracts and create jobs by starting work on the runway, he added: “We need to hold the government to account. Delaying a decision isn’t helping anyone.”

If progress continues to stall, Holland-Kaye said the airport would go back to plan A and focus on improving the customer service at the airport, something the airport is prioritising with expansion not going to happen before 2025 even if the runway if approved.