In a report after a £20 million three-year inquiry Sir Howard Davies has recommended that while a new runway at Gatwick is deliverable, the government should build one at Heathrow.
The recommendation for a new runway at Heathrow sparked wildly different views and fresh political controversy.
Business leaders and unions welcomed the prospect of a new runway but local campaigners vowed to continue protests against expanding Heathrow.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher promised that Labour would support the government in a quick decision to expand Heathrow which he described as “the biggest decision for UK plc in decades”.
Mr Cameron is faced with furious opposition from his own Tory benches with London mayor Boris Johnson, who had wanted a new airport built on the Thames estuary east of London, saying the expansion will “never happen”.
Richmond MP Zak Goldsmith, who is favourite to be the next Tory candidate for London mayor and has campaigned against expanding Heathrow, warned that it “will severely damage the environment” and add to “the worst noise pollution problem in Europe”.
Meanwhile, it is understood that International Development Secretary Justine Greening, who also represents a west London seat, could resign over the issue. In 2009 Mr Cameron said “no ifs, no buts” in ruling out a new runway at Heathrow but yesterday he appeared to be ready to agree to it.
Under pressure from acting Labour leader Harriet Harman in Prime Minister’s Questions,
Mr Cameron said a decision would be taken by the end of the year.
“It is important now that there is a very detailed report that we study it,” he said. “A decision will be made by the end of the year.”
Mr Cameron refused to be drawn on the options set out in the report, saying the government had to be mindful of its “legal position” or it could “endanger whatever decision that is made”.
Later a Downing Street spokesman said “all ministers” would be expected to not comment on the report.
Green groups attacked the announcement because of the likely impact on the environment.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: “Davies’ preferred option of a third runway at Heathrow is an environmental and political minefield. It would jeopardise the UK’s climate targets, worsen air pollution in London, and open up a political can of worms for David Cameron.”
Terry Scuoler, chief executive of EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, said: “Heathrow is a global freight hub and the clear preference for manufacturers with a business need for aviation expansion.
“This recommendation that Heathrow should be allowed to expand is the right one for industry and the country.”
John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow Airport said: “This debate has never been about a runway, it’s been about the future we want for Britain. Expanding Heathrow will keep Britain as one of the world’s great trading nations, right at the heart of the global economy.”
But Gatwick Airport’s chief executive Stewart Wingate said: “Gatwick is still very much in the race.
“The commission’s report makes clear that expansion at Gatwick is deliverable.”