There will be no firm decisions on UK airport expansion before the next general election, the Government has confirmed.
A future airport policy independent commission, to be chaired by former Financial Services Authority chairman Sir Howard Davies, will not publish its final report until the summer of 2015, the Government said.
A decision on whether to support any of the recommendations in the commission's final report will be taken by the next government, new Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said.
The announcement means that the debate over whether Heathrow should have a third runway or whether a new airport should be built in the Thames Estuary will drag on for many more months.
The coalition Government was initially opposed to a third runway at Heathrow - an expansion which was supported by the last Labour administration.
But leading Tories have, of late, called for a third runway, while London Mayor Boris Johnson and architect Lord Foster have proposed new estuary airports.
The Heathrow debate dominated Prime Minister David Cameron's Government reshuffle this week, with an anti-Heathrow expansion minister, Justine Greening, being removed from her post as Transport Secretary.
Announcing the Davies Commission in a written Parliamentary statement, Ms Greening's successor Mr McLoughlin said the commission would identify and recommend to Government "options for maintaining this country's status as an international hub for aviation".
Mr McLoughlin said: "This is a very difficult debate, but the reality is that since the 1960s Britain has failed to keep pace with our international competitors in addressing long-term aviation capacity and connectivity needs."
He went on: "The Government believes that maintaining the UK's status as a leading global aviation hub is fundamental to our long-term international competitiveness. But the Government is also mindful of the need to take full account of the social, environmental and other impacts of any expansion in airport capacity."