Ground will now not be broken for the construction of Terminal 5 at Heathrow until the year 2000, sources close to the project say.
It will come as more disappointment to BAA, which has committed itself to a fifth terminal as part of its efforts to maintain Heathrow's position as Europe's premier airline hub.
The inquiry, which will celebrate its second anniversary in May, is not due to report its findings to the Government before the end of the year. Observers familiar with the process believe it will take between a year and 18 months for final approval to be given to the project, and another six months to finalise details with contractors.
This, they add, assumes that Terminal 5 will get a clean bill of health from the inquiry.
Plans for the terminal have been opposed vociferously by local environmental groups and by the five local authorities nearby. Support, though, has come from local business groups worried about possible loss of revenue if the existing airport terminals become too congested.
Sources close to the company say the opening date for the first phase is now scheduled for 2005, three years after the original opening date.
As a result the terminal, which will cost an estimated pounds 1.5bn to build and offer berths for 60 planes, will not be fully operational before 2013.
BAA sources fear the delay could offer Heathrow's continental rivals such as Amsterdam's Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle in Paris - both of which have ambitious expansion plans on the table but neither of which face regulatory issues - the opportunity to leapfrog ahead in the race to become the primary European hub.
The chief source of the delay has been the myriad of evidence presented by both sides to support their cases. "The paperwork alone will fill a room - no exaggeration," said one observer.
However, additional concerns have been thrown up recently by Boeing's decision not to proceed with its superjumbo project.
BAA has claimed throughout the planning process that the terminal will double the number of passengers through the airport from 40 million annually to more than 80 million by 2016. But the number of flights will only increase by 8 per cent because the size of the planes will grow to accommodate the passenger growth.Reuse content