West Midland business leaders are pressing transport secretary Geoff Hoon to voice his continued backing for the expansion of Birmingham International Airport (BIA).

Support organisations, led by Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCI), are urging the minister to publicly support the airport, whose application to extend its runway by 400 metres goes before Solihull council on Monday evening.

They are concerned that Mr Hoon may defer the final decision, as he did over a third runway at Heathrow.

In a letter to Mr Hoon, BCI chief executive Jerry Blackett says: “The extension of BIA’s runway is critically important to the future economic success of Birmingham and the West Midlands.

“Proposals to extend BIA’s runway by 400 metres will enable direct very long-haul flights to China, the Far East and the west coast of America.

“The expansion of BIA is a priority for the economic and competitive advantage of the West Midlands and is supported by business and local authorities.”

A similar letter is being sent to the minister by other business support organisations in the region through the One Voice Group, which comprises BCI, Birmingham Forward, Birmingham Future, the CBI, the Engineering Employers’ Federation, the Federation of Small Businesses and the IOD.

West Midlands Business Council also put its weight behind BCI’s call for the runway extension in a letter to Solihull Council ahead of tonight’s Planning Committee meeting.

West Midlands Business Council executive director James Watkins said: “The runway extension is critical – especially at this very difficult time in our economy.

“We can come out of this downturn with a bounce if we can show international investors that we have a world-class airport with routes to the west coast of the United States, China, Japan and the whole of the Asia– Pacific region.

“If we cannot boast such an airport, then our growing links with international business will be hamstrung – and that can only hit jobs here at home.”

Mr Watkins said it was a mistake to confuse the runway extension at BIA with the debate about expansion at other airports such as Heathrow and Stansted, adding plans for expansion in the South East were of a different magnitude to the BIA plans.

The long-awaited decision on the BIA runway expansion follows a month marked by delays and protests over expansion plans at other UK airports.

Earlier this month Mr Hoon postponed a decision on expansion at Heathrow, the UK’s biggest airport, until January.

The Government had originally committed itself to making an announcement on Heathrow, including plans for a third runway, before the end of this year.

But many commentators believe there is no easy option, reckoning the Government is “damned if they do and damned if they don’t”.

The government expressed support for expansion at Heathrow in its 2003 aviation White Paper and has since maintained its backing for a third runway.

But the Conservatives are against expansion and while big business and airlines are in favour, residents, local councils and conservationists are opposed.

Stansted Airport’s expansion plans were also targeted earlier this month by climate change protest group Plane Stupid.

The group, which is opposed to the Government’s decision to allow the expansion of the airport with a second runway, caused budget airline Ryanair to cancel 56 flights by breaking into a secure area and forcing the runway to remain closed for three hours.