The recommendation for a new runway at Heathrow Airport sparked fresh debate on the environmental impact of the plan and stirred up further political debate.
Local campaigners and environmental groups vowed to continue their protests against the expansion, as business leaders broadly welcomed the plans.
Green groups attacked the announcement because of the likely impact on the environment.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said:
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.
Business and trade unions appear to have broadly welcomed the prospect of a third runway at Heathrow Airport in West London.
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. Today's recommendation that Heathrow should be allowed to expand is the right one for industry and the country.
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A British Airways' plane with more than 200 passengers on board has landed safely after having to return to London following a suspected technical problem.
The Boeing 777 - flight BA49 - had left Heathrow Airport at around 2.35pm today bound for Seattle in the USA.
It reached a point north-west of Edinburgh when the cockpit crew made the decision to return to Heathrow.
The aircraft, carrying 218 passengers and 14 crew, landed at around 4.45pm.
Our highly trained pilots returned to Heathrow as a precaution after a suspected technical fault.
Our engineers will inspect the aircraft to determine what the issue was
We are using another Boeing 777 which is scheduled to depart at 9pm this evening. We are sorry for any delays to customers' travel plans, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our top priority.
The Airports Commission consultation closes today on increasing the UK's long-term air travel capacity.
The commission has been asking people for their views on the three short-listed options for a new runway in the south east of England - a second runway a Gatwick, a third runway at Heathrow, and an extension to the existing northern runway at Heathrow to operate as two separate runways.
Chaired by Howard Davies, the commission is expected to make its final recommendations following the General Election. It has already rejected the idea of an inner Thames Estuary hub airport backed by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
The budget airline easyJet has said the expansion of Heathrow would ensure long-haul airlines stay in the UK instead of using airports abroad:
It is clear that long-haul airlines want to expand at Heathrow and if they can't, they will do so not at Gatwick but at other airports such as Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Heathrow does not currently have low-cost, short-haul airlines but an expanded Heathrow would allow airlines like easyJet to operate there, providing more competition which will mean new routes, more services and lower fares. EasyJet's costs are on average 40% lower than legacy airlines and so we expect to be able to more than offset the increase in airport charges.
However, the airline did not think expansion would work at Gatwick:
By comparison, the Gatwick proposal requires a significant increase in airport charges. This would inevitably lead to higher fares for Gatwick's passengers, the vast majority of whom are flying for leisure. Gatwick is a much improved airport under its new owners and management team and easyJet is committed to continuing to grow our operations there. However, there is no evidence that passenger demand at Gatwick, and therefore its range of airlines and their networks, will be significantly expanded with an additional runway. Gatwick slots have been and are still readily available now which would allow long haul airlines to move to or expand at Gatwick. History shows that there is little appetite to do so and, in fact, many have left the airport.
Gatwick though responded, saying environmental factors will also have to be taken into account:
EasyJet will take a position based on its own narrow commercial interests. The Government however will have to make a decision for the country balancing what is best for both the economy and the environment. That can only mean Gatwick. Gatwick can deliver its second runway without the massive environmental damage which has stopped Heathrow expansion time and time again. That means Britain can finally get on with it.
The budget airline easyJet has said it is backing a plan to expand Heathrow Airport despite the fact that its biggest base is currently at Gatwick. An Airports Commission, set up by the Government, is currently examining which of the two airports should be expanded to improve Britain's passenger capacity. EasyJet operates from four airports in the UK but has told the Commission that it prefers Heathrow.
Heathrow is in the best interests of passengers as it has the greatest demand.
We are delighted that easyJet wants to operate from an expanded Heathrow. It is great news for Heathrow passengers and we look forward to working with easyJet to deliver new routes and services.