The Airports Commission inquiry into airport expansion in south-east England has recommended a third runway at London Heathrow.

The long-awaited report said this option would connect the UK to 40 new destinations, while adding £147 billion to economic growth and 70,000 jobs by 2050.

Once constructed, the third runway would have strict air and noise pollution regulations, including no night flights between 2330 and 0600.

A fourth runway “should be firmly ruled out”, it added.

Heathrow third runway

An artist’s impression of how Heathrow would look with a third runway

The Commission described Gatwick’s plan for a second runway as “plausible”, but again dismissed London Mayor Boris Johnson’s preferred option of a new airport in the Thames Estuary (see news, September 2014).

The report said: “We have concluded that the best answer is to expand Heathrow’s runway capacity.

“A brand new airport in the Thames Estuary, while appealing in theory, is unfeasibly expensive, highly problematic in environmental terms and would be hugely disruptive for many businesses and communities.

“Gatwick, by contrast, has presented a plausible case for expansion. It is well placed to cater for growth in intra-European leisure flying, but is unlikely to provide as much of the type of capacity which is most urgently required: long-haul destinations in new markets. Heathrow can provide that capacity most easily and quickly.

“The benefits are significantly greater, for business passengers, freight operators and the broader economy. All passengers will benefit from enhanced competition.”

There were three remaining options for a new runway in the south-east — a second at Gatwick, a third at Heathrow, or extending one of the two existing runways at LHR.

It is now down to the government to make a decision. However, senior Tory MPs including Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith, both with constituents under Heathrow flight paths, are in opposition to expansion at Heathrow.

Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate said his airport is “still very much in the race”. In May, he warned that expansion at Heathrow would be “unlawful” as it would further breach air pollution limits (see news, May 29).

He said this morning: “The Commission’s report makes clear that expansion at Gatwick is deliverable. It is for the Commission to make a recommendation but it is of course for the government to decide.

“So we now enter the most important stage of the process. We are confident that when the government makes that decision they will choose Gatwick as the only deliverable option.

“For instance, this report highlights the very significant environmental challenges at Heathrow such as air quality and noise impact. Gatwick will give the country the economic benefits it needs and at the same time impact far less people.”

The Commission had been expected to make its recommendation shortly after May’s general election, but delayed its verdict to examine more evidence on the problems caused by air pollution (see news, May 11).

Last month, campaigners threatened legal action over the “manifestly unfair and unlawful” consultation into pollution (see news, June 15).

Easyjet, which has its biggest base at Gatwick, threw its support behind London Heathrow’s plan for a third runway earlier this year (see news, January 30).