British Airways is joining forces with rivals Virgin Atlantic and bmi plus the TUC in an advertising campaign claiming that not building a new runway at Heathrow could cost over 100,000 jobs.
Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, is to say in the next few days whether he favours building a new runway at Heathrow or Stansted. He is expected to go for expanding the smaller airport.
But a strongly worded letter - signed by BA's chief executive, Rod Eddington, Virgin Atlantic's chairman, Sir Richard Branson, bmi's chairman, Sir Michael Bishop, and Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC- will argue that going for Stansted is the wrong decision.
The letter claims: "It is estimated that a third runway at Heathrow will bring £37bn of benefits to Britain and drive an extra 24,000 jobs and a further 80,000 indirect jobs by 2030."
It is feared the jobs could be lost to Paris Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt International and Amsterdam Schiphol. The airlines are spending over £100,000 on adverts for the campaign. It is thought that the Cabinet is split on the proposals with Tony Blair arguing that Stansted is better environmentally and politically while Gordon Brown favours Heathrow for economic reasons.
The airlines have threatened legal action if the Government cross-subsidised the development of Stansted through higher landing charges at Heathrow, the only way aviation experts think that airlines can be persuaded to fly to Stansted.