A decision on the government’s preferred option for airport expansion in the South East is set to be announced next week following a meeting of the cabinet’s economic and industrial strategy (airports) sub-committee.
Prime Minister Theresa May has put in place a "special derogation" from the normal rules of collective responsibility to allow ministers some flexibility to set out their personal position on the matter.
The decision is seen as a sign that the Prime Minister is preparing to give the go-ahead to a third runway at Heathrow, which is opposed by foreign secretary Boris Johnson and education secretary Justine Greening.
According to reports, senior government and opposition figures had believed that a vote on the government’s preferred option would take place this autumn.
But the Prime Minister has signalled that there will not be a vote in Parliament until winter 2017/18, when MPs will be asked to vote on whether to designate a National Policy Statement on airports.
London mayor Sadiq Khan accused the Prime Minister of "dither and delay". He said: "Now, more than ever, businesses need certainty and stability in order to make investment decisions and to keep jobs in Britain. Instead, they are getting dither and delay."
However, the government insisted that its position on the timetable for the decision had not changed. It maintains that it has been clear that this would be the process from the start and is in line with the Planning Act 2008, under which the planning decision on the new runway will be taken.
The government confirmed at the end of last year that the Planning Act 2008 regime for nationally significant infrastructure projects will be the route for delivering a planning decision on additional runway capacity in the South East.
Speaking earlier this year, former transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that, following a decision by the government on the preferred location of the new runway, there would be a draft National Policy Statement (NPS) published for consultation and laid in Parliament.
The consultation could be for 16 weeks and would be followed by a "full-blown" select committee inquiry for 12 weeks, according to McLoughlin.