The government cleared the way Tuesday for construction of a long-debated expansion of Heathrow airport, already the busiest air facility in Europe.
Transport Secretary Stephen Byers sided with the airport owner and business interests, and against a coalition of local residents and environmentalists, in approving construction of a fifth terminal designed to handle up to 30 million passengers a year.
The $3.6 billion terminal is scheduled to open in 2007.
"Terminal 5 would make a major contribution to the national economy," Byers said, adding that a new terminal was needed to help Heathrow meet competition from Frankfurt and other European airports.
In a gesture to local concerns, Byers said he would limit the number of flights at Heathrow to 480,000 a year, an increase of 20,000 over current levels.
Heathrow's owner, BAA PLC, applied for permission to build the fifth terminal in 1993, and a public inquiry which started in May 1995 continued until March 1999.
BAA forecasts that about 140 million passengers will use London airports in 2010 and argues that the fifth terminal is needed to help cope with that load.
"Heathrow can now stay competitive with the airports that would otherwise have overtaken it Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris," said Christopher Darke, general secretary of BALPA, the airline pilots union.
"This is great news for the tens of thousands of Londoners who rely on Heathrow for their employment," said Stephen Crabb, manager of business for the new terminal.
Environmentalists and other opponents were dejected.
"The decision on Terminal 5 was always going to be the real test of this government's commitment to the environment, said Caroline Lucas, a Green Party member of the European Parliament. "(Prime Minister) Tony Blair has resoundingly failed it."
Robert Evans, who represents the Heathrow area in the European Parliament, said it would be better to build a big new airport elsewhere.
Evans said BAA "has got different priorities from the rest of us. Instead of just trying to get passengers on to planes as quickly and efficiently as possible, BAA wants to encourage us to spend money in the terminals."
HACAN ClearSkies, which campaigns against noise from Heathrow's current operations, said it would continue its protests.
"We will not go away until the government gets serious about cutting the number of aircraft flying over the skies of London. These aircraft are blighting our lives," said the group's chairman, John Stewart.
Heathrow was the world's fourth-busiest airport last year, with 64.6 million passengers, trailing Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The next busiest European airport is Frankfurt, in seventh place with 49.4 million, and Paris' Charles de Gaulle, in eighth place, with 48.2 million passengers.