THE plan to extend the main runway at Birmingham International Airport could be put back six years or more if the Government calls in the £130 million scheme, BIA's new boss has warned.
Facing the press for the first time since taking over as the £200,000-a-year chief executive officer, Paul Kehoe said Government intervention could delay the project by up to three years, before the three-year building programme gets under way.
The airport wants to lengthen the runway by 400 metres - to 3,000 metres - to allow planes to fly non-stop to the West Coast of America and China. The scheme has the strong backing of regional business leaders who say it will open up access for West Midlands companies to lucrative overseas markets.
But anti-expansion campaigners are opposed to the extension because they claim people living near the airport will be subjected to much more noise and higher carbon emissions from aircraft.
The plan is due to be considered before the end of this year by Solihull Council's planning committee, and Mr Kehoe said he was not banking on it being approved.
"If I was a betting man, I would say we should get planning permission," he said. "It makes great sense, but you never know. Nothing is a given."
Mr Kehoe said it was "absolutely critical we get our plans spot on. There is a lot of emotion around this - it is a very important decision."
As well as the possibility of the Secretary of State calling in the project for a public inquiry, a change of government could also lead to it being delayed, he said, because a Conservative administration may oppose major airport expansion.
Mr Kehoe, who was previously chief executive at Bristol Airport, has also held senior management positions at Luton and Belfast airports. He started his career in aviation in the Royal Air Force as an air traffic controller.
Married with two children, he is moving into a new home in Dickens Heath.