A final decision on a new runway for the South East of England could be further delayed by the referendum on Britain's membership of the EU, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has hinted.
Mr McLoughlin said he hoped the Government would finally make its choice between expansion at Heathrow or Gatwick by the summer, but added that the referendum was one of a number of issues competing for ministers' attention in the months ahead.
Speaking to LBC radio, the Transport Secretary denied that last year's postponement of the runway decision was designed to delay the contentious verdict until after the election of the new London mayor in May.
Asked when the issue would finally be resolved, Mr McLoughlin said: "I hope later this year. We have said we would hope to move some way by the summer of this year."
But he added: "There's lots of other things which are going on in the political spectrum - if there's a referendum this summer, and the like. But I would hope by the summer of this year we will be able to make progress."
A decision on a possible third runway at Heathrow was deferred last month after ministers decided more work was needed on its impact on air quality, noise and carbon emissions.
Mr McLoughlin insisted that the upcoming mayoral election "didn't have any bearing" on the decision, pointing out that ministers had known of Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith's opposition to a third runway for some time.
The Transport Secretary also revealed that he has told Cabinet colleagues to set off earlier for work in response to traffic delays in Westminster which some motorists blame on mayor Boris Johnson's introduction of new bike lanes in a set of "cycle superhighways".
Asked if his colleagues had complained about the impact of the roadworks, Mr McLoughlin said: "Those conversations have to stay with me. They can moan, but I just tell them to leave a bit earlier."
Mr McLoughlin said he had had "some interesting exchanges" with the mayor over the superhighway plan, but denied giving Mr Johnson a dressing-down over the disruption.
"(It was) not a ticking off, because he is the mayor, he has got his own electorate, he believes fully in what he is doing," he told presenter Nick Ferrari.
David Cameron has made clear his intention to offer Mr Johnson a ministerial job after he leaves City Hall in May, but Mr McLoughlin declined to speculate on where he might be going.
"Who knows?" said the Transport Secretary. "I'm not sure Boris knows on that one, and I'm certainly not going to get into that.
"Boris is a big enough character to look after himself."
The Transport Secretary also described the award of asylum status to a migrant who walked through the Channel Tunnel last August as "a surprising decision".
"I'm not responsible for the court's decisions," he said. "There have been a lot of other measures now taken to prevent people getting into the Tunnel."