Leading industry players have welcomed the decision to expand Heathrow airport ahead of its London rival Gatwick, but warned years of legal wrangling lay ahead.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling announced the decision to build a new runway on Tuesday lunchtime and it will now move on to a lengthy consultation process.

Read all the reaction as it happened on Travel Weekly’s live blog

The new runway is not likely to be built until the mid-2020s, assuming no further delays, and a series of legal challenges appear certain.

Airlines largely welcomed the long-awaited decision. Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive Craig Kreeger said the deal to expand Heathrow is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” while EasyJet said it will expand its operation to include flights from Heathrow.

The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK), which represents 70 airlines, said the new runway will deliver “further vital connectivity” and chief executive Dale Keller said the “real work starts now” while UK Inbound, which represents over 370 UK tourism businesses, urged Heathrow to “swiftly move forward” with the plans.

Flybe and Bmi, meanwhile, wanted guarantees of extra regional connections and Thomas Cook Airlines CEO Christoph Debus called for a national aviation policy off the back of the decision.

International Airlines Group consortium, which includes British Airways, also welcomed the decision to go for Heathrow.

Chief executive Willie Walsh said: “Heathrow is the world’s most expensive hub airport so it’s critical that new capacity is affordable. Now, the airport must ensure it is the UK and the travelling public who get the benefits from the runway not the airport’s owners.”

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer, said increasing airport capacity is essential to the UK’s economy, growth and global competitiveness. He welcomed the announcement but called for Gatwick to be expanded too.

A Heathrow spokesman said: “Heathrow stands ready to work with government, businesses, airlines and our local communities to deliver an airport that is fair, affordable and secures the benefits of expansion for the whole of the UK.”

John Hays, managing director of Hays Travel, said: “It’s better late than never. Obviously it is long overdue but we need more capacity so that’s a good decision. I just hope that the government actually gets on and gets its built as fast as possible.

“My view would be to have three London airports [Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton] build a new runway but this is the best decision we could have hoped for. I’m very, very pleased.”

Despite the largely positive reaction, some criticised the decision, including Ryanair and Norwegian Air and London mayor Sadiq Khan, who favoured Gatwick.

Ryanair wants to see runways expanded at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. Chief executive Michael O’Leary said: “This piecemeal approach to runway infrastructure in the south east is damaging British tourism.”

A Norwegian spokesman said the airline will push ahead with its “huge expansion plans” at Gatwick, which it was backing.

Khan said: “Heathrow expansion is the wrong decision. Gatwick would have boosted our economy and been quicker and cheaper to build.”

Gatwick said it remains ready to expand when the time comes.

Chief executive Stewart Wingate said: “We are disappointed as we do not believe this is the right answer for Britain. Gatwick has put forward a credible financeable and deliverable plan for expansion.”