The owners of Heathrow, which include the sovereign wealth funds of Qatar and China, want to build a £17.6bn third runway, while Gatwick, controlled by Global Infrastructure Partners, is fighting to build a second landing strip costing an estimated £7.1bn.

Heathrow Hub, led by former Concorde pilot Jock Lowe and backed by individuals including financier Ian Hannam, is proposing an alternative scheme to extend Heathrow’s northern runway, which has a £13.4bn price tag. Businesses across the UK want the Government to choose between the schemes and push ahead with expansion.

Not only would extra runway capacity boost the economy, but approving a major infrastructure project would demonstrate the country is open for business following the Brexit vote, especially after Mrs May delayed the Hinkley Point nuclear project.

But expansion of either airport faces opposition among residents concerned about noise and air pollution. While many MPs support Heathrow, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, vehemently opposes its expansion, as does Justine Greening, the Education Secretary. Mrs May, whose Maidenhead constituency is overflown by Heathrow planes, has expressed past opposition.

It is thought Mr Cameron had been poised to approve Heathrow’s third runway before he resigned. Heathrow’s chances were boosted last year after the Government-appointed Airports Commission concluded a third runway was the best solution to the looming capacity crunch. Heathrow, Gatwick and Heathrow Hub declined to comment.

The Department for Transport said: “We continue to engage with the three promoters ahead of a decision and it is entirely appropriate and reasonable to meet with them.”

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