A study by the Independent Transport Commission has found concerns over noise and pollution at Heathrow are not insurmountable.

The research said that ministers could no longer use environmental barriers as an excuse to block the airport’s expansion.

Details emerged as it was disclosed that public opinion is shifting further towards Gatwick as the site for airport expansion in the southeast instead of Heathrow.

The Independent Transport Commission report said that while the concerns “pose significant challenges, neither is insurmountable” because of improvements in aircraft technology.

Stephen Hickey, chairman of the commission’s aviation working group, said its research showed that “sustainability concerns should not stop the UK realising the great additional benefits that increased connectivity can provide”.

The Airports Commission found last summer that Heathrow should be expanded rather than Gatwick because it would deliver more economic benefits. A final decision is expected in July.

Today’s report said that aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 were far quieter than older types.

Further improvements would also be made with the use of smoother descents into airports and the increased rotation of runways to offer respite to residents, the Times reported.

The report also said a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions was “not an impossible problem to solve” because of carbon trading and advances in airframe technology to reduce fuel use.

Concerns have also been raised over levels of nitrogen oxide but the report said that cars and other road vehicles accounted for a third of these emissions in the UK, adding: “Road travel … has the opportunity to embrace green propulsion within the next decade or two.”

Gatwick pulled 12 points clear of Heathrow (46% against 34%) – the largest lead since YouGov first polled Londoners on their preferred airport for expansion in September 2014.
Double-digit margins continue across key themes in the runway debate – with Gatwick scoring higher on the environment, cost for taxpayers, regeneration, competition and speed of delivery.

The poll, conducted for Gatwick, also shows that the negative impact on quality of life for local residents such as noise and air pollution was the top concern for Londoners.
However, Heathrow scored higher than Gatwick in the perceived economic benefits to the UK.

Gatwick chief executive, Stewart Wingate, said: “Time after time Londoners say Gatwick expansion is best for the environment, for the taxpayer, regeneration, competition and for speed of delivery. These very same Londoners would be forced to live with illegal air quality levels if Heathrow expands – so their views need to be taken seriously.
“Momentum is with Gatwick as more people recognise it is the only solution that balances the economy and the environment.

“It is also the only plan that is actually legal, so if we want Britain to get on with it the answer is obvious.”