The Government has signalled the go-ahead for expanding Heathrow and increasing the use of existing runways ahead of a formal decision later this year.
The Department for Transport responded to a report recommending expansion by the Commons transport select committee, telling MPs it recognises “the immense value” of Heathrow’s status as an international hub.
The committee had warned Heathrow would lose its position as Europe’s premier hub airport without an increase in capacity, currently pegged at 68 million passengers a year.
A third runway is not likely to be added until about 2020, but changed use of the existing runways to allow take-offs and landings on each throughout the day could begin soon.
The runways are single-use at present, switching between take-offs and landings in mid-afternoon. This gives local residents a break from the noise of aircraft taking off, which are louder than those coming in to land.
The response to the committee might be seen as preparing public opinion in advance of a formal announcement. New London mayor Boris Johnson has opposed the current proposals, the London Evening Standard has warned of “all-day flights” disturbing residents and protests are planned at the end of May.
Former British Airways boss Robert Ayling recently came out against expansion, arguing instead for a cut in transfer passengers who do not stay in the UK.
Heathrow has the highest number of international transfer passengers in the world.