The UK Government is to hold a formal consultation on the future of aviation in the country, including an assessment of plans to build a £50bn airport in the Thames Estuary instead of expanding London’s crowded Heathrow airport.

The study will begin in March 2012 with the object of maintaining the UK’s aviation hub status.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson told the BBC that the UK Government is increasingly interested in the Thames Estuary idea. The option would boost airport capacity by setting up a base on reclaimed land off the Kent coast.

The proposed four-runway airport, unveiled by architect Foster + Partners, will handle 150 million passengers a year and will be located on the Hoo Peninsula, 55km from London. The airport will have a railway terminus, a freight depot and port, along with a new Thames Barrier and a four-track high-speed passenger and freight railway.

Recently, the UK Civil Aviation Authority called for an expansion of the country’s airports, urging the government to draw up a long-term aviation policy that includes adding a runway in south-east England.

British Airports Authority, which operates Heathrow and is owned by Spanish company Ferrovial, said that the new airport might threaten Heathrow’s position and would take decades to build. BAA chief executive Colin Matthew said that UK cannot have two hubs and should look at various cities around the world that have tried to do that.

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"The consequences of closing Heathrow wouldn’t just be big for my company; it would be big for 100,000 jobs in this part of London," Matthew said.

Heathrow Airport served 69.4 million passengers and 476,197 flights in 2011, reaching 99.2% its annual limit of 480,000.