The coalition government will not make a final decision on the Heathrow third runway question before the 2015 general election, it has been confirmed.
Just three days after being promoted to the job, new transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin confirmed in a written statement to parliament that it would be for the next government to make the big calls on Britain's future aviation strategy.
Demands from Tory backbenchers and business groups for the construction of a third runway at Heathrow as quickly as possible have been intensifying throughout the year – despite the Conservatives opposing another runway in their 2010 election manifesto.
Now the issue has been handed to Howard Davies, who will chair an independent commission looking at the options available for the next government.
"Successive governments have sought to develop a credible long term aviation policy to meet the international connectivity needs of the UK," McLoughlin wrote.
"In each case the policy has failed for want of trust in the process, consensus on the evidence upon which the policy was based and the difficulty of sustaining a challenging long term policy through a change of government. The country cannot afford for this failure to continue."
The Davies commission will issue its final report in spring 2015, but an interim report providing recommendations for immediate actions to improve existing runway capacity will be published before the end of 2013.
"A decision on whether to support any of the recommendations contained in the final report will be taken by the next government," McLoughlin confirmed.
Britain's aviation capacity and hub status has been slowly fallen behind other European competitors like Germany and France since the 1960s, he wrote.
The need to boost the country's long-term international competitiveness has been tempered by "the social, environmental and other impacts of any expansion", however.
Today's statement sets up the prospect of a national debate on the issue, channelled through the prism of the commission's work.
Davies, the first chairman of the Financial Services Authority, has subsequently worked as a professor of practice at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris.
He resigned as director of the London School of Economics over its links with former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.