Industry groups are to refocus lobbying for an expanded Heathrow on the Conservatives after Tory leader David Cameron signalled his opposition to a third runway.
In a speech on Monday, Cameron accused the government of “pig-headedly pursuing a third runway to prove a political point”. He said: “The most important priority for Heathrow is making it better, not bigger.”
Tory opposition puts plans for a third runway in doubt, with the prospect of a Conservative government headed by Cameron taking over from Labour inside two years.
UK Board of Airline Representatives chief executive Mike Carrivick said: “Cameron is way off beam and I have written to him requesting a meeting.
“No one wants Heathrow operating at 99% capacity all the time. I am not sure how engaged with the industry the Conservatives are.”
In a speech laying out what he called a blue/green charter, Cameron queried the economic argument for expansion.
He said: “Gordon Brown said a third runway is vital for the future of our economy. But if you get behind the headlines, his argument falls apart.
“The case is based on Heathrow as an even bigger hub airport with a massive increase in the number of transfer passengers. There are increasing grounds to believe the economic case for a third runway is flawed, even without addressing the serious environmental concerns.”
British Airways, Heathrow operator BAA and the Confederation of British Industry believe they have won the case for expansion with ministers, with the Department for Transport expected to give the go-ahead following publication of the results of a consultation later this year.
The DfT is still wading through 70,000 submissions on the issue and could not give a publication date.
The Government has already indicated its support for expanding Heathrow, both with a third runway and by allowing mixed use of the existing runways – a move that would increase traffic by about 15% but increase noise for local residents.