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Gatwick will carry on pushing for a second runway even if rival Heathrow wins government backing to expand, the boss of the West Sussex airport has vowed.

Stewart Wingate, chief executive of Gatwick, told the Sunday Telegraph that Gatwick will not abandon its runway hopes in the face of the government supporting the expansion of Heathrow as recommended by the Airports Commission.

“I don’t think it can possibly be the end of it,” he said. “I think the government decision is an important milestone, but are we going to lose our appetite and build a second runway?

“Our belief is, Heathrow is undeliverable. This is going to be a multi-year event.”

Previous plans to expand Heathrow had failed on environmental grounds and the same would happen again if the government backs another runway in west London, Wingate claimed.

Gatwick, which has already invested more than £25 million on its runway bid, would “stand ready” to deliver its second runway if Heathrow’s plan unravelled, he said.

Wingate refused to rule out launching a legal challenge if the government throws its weight behind his rival.

Gatwick believes that a third runway at Heathrow would be illegal on the grounds that it would breach European Union limits on air pollution.

Heathrow insists it can expand within EU rules.

Prime minister David Cameron has pledged to give a formal response to the Airport Commission’s findings by the end of the year.

Wingate was speaking as Gatwick reached a milestone despite Saturday’s evacuation of the North Terminal due to a security alert, with 40 million passengers passing through the airport in the past year.

Forecasts by the commission had assumed the airport would not be this bu