LONDON, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- The British government launched a national consultation exercise Thursday into a multi-billion-dollar project for a third runway at the country's busiest airport, London Heathrow.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling described the controversial airport expansion as one of the Britain's most important ever infrastructure projects.
He also said the Heathrow plan is a major step forward in preparing Britain for leaving the European Union, ensuring the country seizes the opportunity to forge a new role in the world after Brexit.
Part of the plan is to increase the number of domestic airports with direct links to Heathrow to pave the way for more international flights, particularly to Asia and North America.
Last October Grayling announced that the government's preferred scheme for adding new runway capacity in the south-east of England was through a runway at Heathrow.
The project has now been outlined in a new national policy statement (NPS) which will be subject to public consultation.
"This move, taken for the country as a whole, will ensure Britain has the connections it needs to thrive in the global market, sending a clear signal that Britain is open for business," said a spokesman for the Department for Transport (DfT).
The government policy statement sets out the need for additional airport capacity in the London area and the reasons why a new runway at Heathrow is the government's preferred scheme.
Grayling said: "Aviation expansion is important for the UK both in boosting our economy and jobs and promoting us on the world stage."
"Leaving the EU is a new chapter for Britain and provides us with a great opportunity to forge a new role in the world. We are determined to seize that opportunity and having the right infrastructure in place will allow us to build a more global Britain," said the official.
"The national policy statement is a big step forward for what is one of the UK's most important, major infrastructure projects," Grayling added.
The draft policy statement is now open for a 16-week extensive public consultation to ensure people have the opportunity to have their say.
Around the Heathrow area, there will be 20 one-day public events for members of the public and a further 13 events across other regions of Britain.
The exercise will look at increasing connectivity to Heathrow from other areas of Britain, including Belfast, Liverpool, Newquay, Humberside, Prestwick and Durham Tees Valley.
It will also examine a world-class package of support for communities affected by expansion including noise insulation for homes and schools and improvements to public facilities.
The cost of a third runway is estimated to be 28 billion U.S. dollars, and is forecast to generate about 70,000 jobs. The DfT also says it will give the British economy a boost of 77 billion dollars over the coming years.
It will also add 260,000 extra flights a year, with an extra 16 million long haul seats for passengers travelling from other airports in Britain.
"Heathrow's expansion will open up new links between the UK and markets around the world," added the DfT.
The proposed third runway has already met fierce opposition, mainly from people living around Heathrow and beneath its flight paths.