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LONDON (Reuters) - A decision on how and where to expand the UK's airport capacity should be fast-tracked to prevent Britain falling behind competing hubs in Europe and the Middle East, according to the boss of London's Heathrow airport, which wants a third runway.
"In terms of timing, we'd like the decision quicker ... we think it's urgent," Colin Matthews, the chief executive of Heathrow Ltd, formerly the British airports operator BAA, said on Monday.
The Davies Commission was set up late last year to examine ways to expand UK airport capacity but is not due to report until after the next general election in 2015. Options being considered include building a third runway at Heathrow, west of London, an entirely new four-runway hub in the Thames estuary to the east or expansion of the capital's secondary airports at Gatwick to the south of the capital or Stansted to the northeast.
Under pressure from liberals and green groups, David Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government overturned a decision to build a third Heathrow runway after it came to power in 2010. It also ruled out expanding London's smaller airports.
"For the decision, whatever it is, to stick it will need broad support so if it's just one political party or one narrow section of opinion formers then the decision that is taken will probably be untaken a few months later as it was before," said Matthews. "However, getting that broad agreement may take time."
Heathrow, Europe's busiest airport, is falling behind rival European hubs in the battle for lucrative routes to emerging markets because of the constraints on growth. A study by the Frontier Economics consultancy has shown Paris Charles de Gaulle and Germany's Frankfurt have 1,000 more annual flights to the three largest cities in China than Heathrow.
Matthews says that Istanbul's Ataturk airport as well as growing hubs in the Gulf could also take traffic from European airports in the coming years.
Earlier on Monday Heathrow Ltd posted a strong rise in its profits, largely driven by an increase in the fees it charges airlines using its airports - Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow and Aberdeen.
Controlled by Spanish infrastructure group Ferrovial, Heathrow said its 2012 earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation rose 11.6 percent to 1.26 billion pounds ($1.96 billion) on revenue up 8.1 percent at 2.46 billion pounds. The operator has increased airport tariffs by an average of 12.5 percent since April 2011.
The company said passenger traffic at Heathrow rose 0.9 percent to 70 million during the year, while traffic at London Stansted fell 3.2 percent to 17.5 million.
The group last week unveiled a 3 billion-pound five-year investment plan, which could see passengers facing a rise in ticket prices.
($1=0.6442 British pounds)
Editing by Greg Mahlich