The UK government will reveal by the end of 2015 whether it supports proposals to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport, as recommended by a panel of experts, or whether it favours a different solution to the airport capacity crisis.
The proposal to build a third runway at Heathrow, although singled out as the most feasible solution by the UK Airports Commission, has met with fierce opposition among senior Tory politicians, including the current Mayor of London Boris Johnson as well as the new Conservative candidate to replace him Zac Goldsmith.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron previously pledged to make a decision by the end of 2015 and although only a few weeks are left until the end of 2015, his spokeswoman insisted the deadline still stands.
"The position remains absolutely the same, which is that we will set out the direction on plans by the end of the year," the spokeswoman said during a regular Westminster media briefing.
In addition to the Heathrow Airport proposal, the UK Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies also considered expansion of Gatwick Airport, as well as the feasibility of building an entirely new airport in the inner Thames estuary - the option favoured by Johnson.
While the Thames estuary proposal was rejected by the commission in the early stages, the Gatwick expansion was carefully reviewed. The commission ultimately concluded that the airport is not well-suited to provide infrastructure for the growing number of long-haul flights.
British Chamber of Commerce director general John Longworth insisted that UK businesses would be "astonished" if the wait for a decision is extended.
"Politicians may believe that further delay would help them dodge a bullet, but the British economy would ultimately pay the price,” he said.
A parliamentary report earlier this month gave ministers a possible route for delaying a green light for the project, recommending that final approval for a third runway should not be granted until the airport demonstrates it can meet key environmental conditions on climate change, air quality and noise.
The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee warned that a failure to deal with environmental concerns could lay the scheme open to legal challenge.
The Davies Commission found that expansion would generate up to £147bn in economic output over 60 years and create more than 70,000 jobs by 2050.
It recommended a "comprehensive" package of measures to make Heathrow's expansion more acceptable to the local community, including a ban on night flights from 11.30pm to 6am and legally binding limits on noise.