The government is expected to publish an aviation policy framework document on Thursday, but an eagerly-awaited consultation on south east England airport capacity needs has been postponed.
It means the announcement by Transport Secretary Justine Greening will not include the setting out of such options as extra runways at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted airports.
And there will be no discussion, for the time being, on two Thames Estuary new-airport plans - the "Boris Island" scheme backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson and the £50 billion project put forward by architect Lord Foster.
There may be some regional airport options in the policy document but Ms Greening is expected to confine herself to such aviation matters as noise levels, night flights and emissions.
The postponement on the consultation on how the UK can best maintain a global hub airport has infuriated airlines and businesses.
Their anger has been fuelled by the fact that the policy document and consultation had already been put back to the summer from their original announcement date of March this year.
Mike Carrivick, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK, which represents many airlines, said:
"Delaying important decisions until later in the year demonstrates a lack of courage and the paralysis afflicting strategic policy-making within the government."
He went on: "While this government struggles internally to establish a clear and defined hub airport policy for the future, competing nations will continue to take away the trade and commerce that should be welcomed in this country.
Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "The government has spent years working on a strategy for UK aviation, so reports that there will be yet more delays beggar belief.
"Businesses are tired of indecision and equivocation on aviation.
"Ministers can't tell businesses to look for new opportunities in emerging markets like Brazil and China, and then fail to provide the basic infrastructure needed to get there."
He added: "The consequences of inaction are stark. If the government does not act swiftly to increase capacity in south east England, strengthen our regional airports, and support the development of more connections to emerging markets, the UK will lose both investment and jobs."
Institution of Civil Engineers director general Nick Baveystock said: "The ongoing delay in addressing our hub capacity issues is disappointing and only adds to the frustration and uncertainty.
"When it comes to the UK's airport infrastructure needs, there are some tough political and public choices, but the UK's reputation is on the line.
"We must ensure there is sufficient capacity to improve connectivity and maintain our competitiveness. Hopefully the autumn consultation will put all options on the table for consideration, so we can secure the best outcome for the environment, society and the economy."
Friends of the Earth's head of campaigns Andrew Pendleton said: "Industry spin about the need for aviation expansion is deeply misleading.
"The reality is we don't need more airport capacity in the south east - London already has more flights to the world's top business centres than any of its European competitors.
"Building more airports or runways will have a devastating impact on local communities and our environment and undermine UK efforts to tackle climate change."
Other business leaders and trade union bosses condemned the Coalition for delaying the consultation on airport capacity needs.
In a letter to The Times, they argued that the indecision over expansion to airports in the south east was leaving the UK lagging behind international competitors.
Eight signatories including Simon Walker, director general of The Institute of Directors, the TUC's general secretary Brendan Barber and John Longworth from the British Chambers of Commerce, wrote: "If we stand still then our international competitors will sweep up business opportunities and overtake us....It is beyond doubt there must be some sort of expansion in our airport capacity.
"The UK can not afford to ignore such a pressing need, and this issue must not be kicked into the long grass."
Baroness Jo Valentine, chief executive of London First, said: "Difficult decisions on the location of additional hub airport capacity cannot be avoided. The UK is already at a competitive disadvantage.
"How much longer are we going to leave Heathrow running at 99% with planes continually stacking, whilst our global rivals who have spare hub capacity expand their links to growth markets?
"It's simply not good enough."
Meanwhile, Lord Mandelson, the former Labour business secretary, argued that an independent panel should decide if and where new runways can be built rather than politicians.
In an article for the newspaper he wrote: "If something like this does not happen, we will see politicians circling around the issue for decades to the cost of the economy and the environment."