The campaign to expand Birmingham Airport has gained a powerful new ally – in the shape of Business Secretary Vince Cable.

Mr Cable is backing Birmingham rather than Heathrow as the answer to the UK’s air passenger needs, giving a major boost to the airport’s new drive to extend its capacity.

The flight hub recently launched a new London publicity campaign to persuade the Government to throw its support behind Birmingham at the expense of a third runway at Heathrow.

Mr Cable said in response to the campaign: “Birmingham is very anxious to expand its airport capacity, to build up a really serious international airport, and there is no resistance from residents.

“A lot of people in the Midlands want to do international business. That is a short-term, pragmatic solution that would bring an awful lot more flights to the country.”

Mr Cable said extra runway capacity at an airport in the South East could take years to deliver.

He was backed in his calls for expansion at Birmingham by Jim French, chief executive of airline Flybe, the biggest carrier serving regional airports.

Mr French said: “We very much see Birmingham as a potential relief valve to Heathrow.

“It is an obvious thing to look at in light of the third runway situation.”

Birmingham Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe said: “Heathrow isn’t the only way to fly to new markets. Policymakers have been infatuated with seeing airport expansion in the South East as the only solution.

“Heathrow has been throwing its weight about trying to get a third runway, but this reliance on a centralised airport system in the South-East has made the industry too regional, uncompetitive and inflexible.

“There are 42 million other people in the UK outside of the South East that require air transportation to these brand new markets in India, China and Brazil.”

Birmingham Airport’s runway extension will be completed by 2014.