Heathrow is hoping an 11th-hour push pegged to Brexit will secure approval to build a third runway, with a final verdict from the government expected within a fortnight.
A government committee chaired by the prime minister, Theresa May, is understood to be on the verge of deciding whether new runway capacity will be added at Gatwick or Heathrow, and industry insiders expect a verdict on 18 October.
Heathrow has latched on to issues related to Brexit, and the struggling UK steel industry, in an attempt to give its £18.6bn plan a last-minute shot in the arm.
It has pledged to use 370,000 tonnes of British steel in the construction of the new runway and a sixth terminal, a plan it says could save 700 jobs in the UK’s beleaguered steel industry. It also says it would prioritise new “Brexit boost” air routes to provide more connections to regional airports and non-EU countries.
The plan would see Heathrow sacrifice more lucrative transatlantic routes in an effort to show it is ready to help the government forge global trade links for life outside the EU.
Its Brexit boost plan would add 25,000 take-offs and landings a year before the runway is built, assuming it is chosen. If Gatwick wins, the plan would not go ahead.
Heathrow says the extra flights would give the UK economy a £1.5bn boost between 2021 and 2025, the date it expects the new runway to be completed assuming there are no major planning delays.
Not all of the new routes would be to non-EU countries, but the airport has said it would reserve slots for destinations such as Wuhan in China, Kochi in India, Quito in Ecuador and Osaka in Japan.
Its proposal would also involve setting up new connections for regional airports such as Dundee, Humberside, Liverpool and Newquay.
Regional networks would also benefit from a 10-year extension to a £10 discount on flights to regional airports.
The plan is designed to appeal to the government’s post-EU referendum plans, as it seeks to ensure trade does not suffer after Brexit.
As part of a concerted drive to sway May’s committee, Heathrow pointed to research on the economic benefits of expansion compared with Gatwick if its Brexit boost plan goes ahead.
The study by Frontier Economics estimates that Heathrow would deliver £60bn of benefit to the economy by 2035, compared with £5bn for Gatwick.
Gatwick’s boss, Stewart Wingate, lashed out at Heathrow’s promise to increase capacity before its new runway is complete.
“Cabinet ministers who have opposed expansion in the past won’t be fooled by this desperate back of an envelope plan,” he said. “Heathrow is undeliverable. The sooner we recognise that and get going with Gatwick, the sooner Britain can benefit.”
Heathrow’s hopes for a positive decision were tempered by a green group questioning an independent study that suggested Heathrow could expand without a large increase in emissions.
A University of Cambridge study suggests a new runway could be built without breaching EU pollution laws. It measured nitrogen dioxide levels around the airport and predicted a marginal increase in emissions if more cars were visiting it, according to the BBC.
The Aviation Environment Federation challenged the study’s findings, which it said were speculative because they were based on assumptions about greater use of electric cars and cleaner engines.
“There is no guarantee that these improvements will materialise, and the government should not support a runway unless it has the policies in place to ensure emissions are reduced,” said the AEF’s deputy director, Cait Hewitt.
“If the government gives the green light to Heathrow based on hopes about the take-up of cleaner vehicles without policies in place to deliver them, they’d better be ready for being back in court.”
If May does give Heathrow the green light, the project will still require approval by parliament.
Heathrow is believed to be confident that it has the backing of the overwhelming majority of MPs.