The Government's first priority in formulating aviation policy should be to make better use of existing capacity, and thoughts on expansion should take a 'very clear second place', a Conservative MP has said.
Zac Goldsmith, who earlier this year threatened to resign his seat and force a by-election if the Government reneged on its promise not to expand Heathrow, argued people should not be subjected to the "horror of expansion".
The Tories ruled out the prospect of a third runway in their 2010 manifesto, but both Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne have acknowledged the need for airport expansion in the south east.
Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on improving rail-air connectivity in the south east, the environmentalist and MP for Richmond Park called on Transport minister Theresa Villiers to spell out the Government's future stance on the issue, which relates to building a third runway at Heathrow.
He asked: "I just wanted to ask her to re-confirm that it is her view and the view of the Government that the first priority of the Government in dealing with this issue is to find ways of making better use of existing capacity and that any thoughts about expansion in the south east take a very, very clear second place, that people would not be subjected to the horror of expansion unless that was an absolute last resort."
Ms Villiers replied that whatever decisions were taken about the long term capacity needs in the south east it was essential to do "everything we can right now to make our airports better and ensure that we make the best use of the capacity that we have".
She added that the Government needed to give "serious evidence based consideration" to the country's future capacity needs.
Conservative Henry Smith, MP for the Crawley constituency in West Sussex - which contains Gatwick Airport - said improved international connectivity was "critical" to the Government's aim of boosting growth through inward investment and increased exports.
Gatwick Airport's recent investment programme, he added, had made it a "credible competitor" to London Heathrow Airport, investing £1.2 billion in facilities, with proposals announced in April to invest a further £1 billion from 2014 to 2019.
Mr Smith stressed Gatwick was supporting routes traditionally seen as the preserve of Heathrow to serve.