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The UK government finally approved a controversial proposal for a third runway at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) Tuesday morning.

Lawmakers say Heathrow’s third runway will help increase domestic regional connectivity. Up to 15% of the new runway’s capacity would be earmarked for domestic connections. More competition among regional routes would mean more choices and hopefully better prices for travelers, officials said. UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her cabinet approved the proposal in a meeting on Tuesday.

“The time for action is now,” UK Transportation Minister Chris Grayling told lawmakers. “Heathrow is already full and the evidence shows the remaining London airports won’t be far behind. Despite being the busiest two runways in the world, Heathrow’s capacity constraints mean it is falling behind its global competitors, impacting the UK’s economy and global trading opportunities.”

The plan, which Grayling dubbed a “historic moment,” has been hotly debated for two decades and has drawn criticism from opponents for creating additional noise pollution for surrounding residents. Critics also claim the project could negatively affect the environment and cost British taxpayers billions of pounds.

Grayling said the project would be privately funded and that about £2.6 billion will be set aside for nearby residents to help compensate the additional noise issues. He also pledged the plan would only go into action if it meets the UK’s requirements for air quality.

Airlines based at LHR embraced the third runway’s approval.

“We applaud the Government’s decision today,” Virgin Atlantic’s CEO Craig Kreeger said in a statement on Tuesday. “Heathrow expansion is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that must not be squandered. As the UK’s only hub airport, an expanded Heathrow is uniquely placed to enable a transformative increase in airline competition for passengers — that will benefit international tourism, businesses and leisure passengers alike.”

The additional runway capacity is also predicted to help the UK as its Brexit plans to leave the European Union become finalized. “As we leave the EU, the UK must remain one of the world’s best-connected and outward-looking countries and a third runway at Heathrow is the best option to deliver this,” Grayling said.

Kreeger expressed a similar view. “Virgin Atlantic is ready to provide the enhanced choice, lower fares, and award-winning service that passengers deserve, as well as increased connectivity and access to new destinations around the world that exporters and a post-Brexit Britain needs.

British lawmakers will vote on the specifics of the plan in coming weeks.

H/T: The Guardian

Featured image by Katrin Ten Eikelder / Getty Images.

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