The airport operator insisted that its plans will go ahead but explained that the process was always going to be lengthy given the introduction of the Infrastructure Planning Commission.
HACAN campaign group chairman John Stewart said: "The champagne is still on ice but this looks like the end for the third runway. It will be virtually impossible for BAA to bring it back in five or ten years' time."
He added: "It does not have popular support now and will have even less then. Climate change and rising oil prices are likely to knock new runways for six."
No Third Runway Action Group chairwoman Geraldine Nicholson noted: "For more than seven years, residents have pulled together and campaigned to stop a third runway. This may be our moment and a victory for future generations."
A BAA spokeswoman said: "We remain convinced that a third runway is the only viable, costed and thought through way of meeting the need for extra capacity to maintain the UK's global connections. Putting in an application is complex, particularly given the new planning structure put in place as recently as 1 October."
She added: "The process was always going to take until after the election. We continue to work on the application and will take as long as necessary to prepare a proper submission."