80% of the UK public see aviation important to the economy: NATS


Eight out of ten of the British public have a positive view of aviation, which they see as important both personally, and to the UK economy as a whole; and two thirds said the pros of aviation outweigh the cons. This is according to a new survey performed for the UK's air traffic services provider, NATS (formerly National Air Traffic Services).

However, the support has been diluted compared with attitudes a year ago, a decrease which "may be linked to people's increasing concerns about air and noise pollution and reflects the public's growing environmental consciousness".

And, in contrast to a recent report produced for the UK government appointed Committee on Climate Change, only a third of respondents agreed that people should be discouraged from travelling.

Meanwhile, Europe's archaic ATC system is creating an additional 3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, for no added value and for no other reason than to maintain separate national ATC systems.

  • 81% of the British public have a positive view of aviation and recognize its importance to the UK economy.
  • Environmental concerns are increasing among the public, leading to a decrease in support for aviation compared to the previous year.
  • Only 34% of respondents agree that people should be discouraged from flying, indicating a desire to continue air travel.
  • 37% of the public are willing to pay an environmental levy, suggesting a willingness to contribute to reducing the environmental impact of flying.
  • The public expects the aviation industry to take action to improve efficiency and reduce environmental impact, with 93% seeing more efficient routes as the most beneficial outcome of airspace modernization.
  • The European air traffic control system is causing unnecessary CO2 emissions, with an additional 3 million tonnes emitted annually due to separate national systems.


  • A government committee has recommended fundamental barriers to flying in order to reduce aviation emissions
  • A NATS report suggests the UK public takes a more holistic approach
  • But it reports there is a growing concern at the environmental impact of flying
  • The airline industry is not making a coherent case for air travel
  • One significant area where emissions could be reduced is by rationalising European airspace

The UK Committee on Climate Change: ban FFPs and punish flyers

In late-2019, Imperial College London produced a report for the the UK's Committee on Climate Change (the CCC), an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 to look across the board at measures to address how to reduce carbon emissions in all areas, including aviation.

The academic report recommends the government should "Introduce an Air Miles Levy which escalates as a function of air miles travelled by the individual traveller" (and "factors in larger emissions for First Class tickets"), adding, "This would send strong price signals against 15% of the UK population responsible for 70% of flights…It would also encourage shifting from long haul to short haul leisure destinations."

More threateningly in many ways, as airlines across the board rapidly improve their revenue streams through leveraging Frequent Flyer Programmes, the report recommends "Introduc(ing) a ban on air miles and frequent flyer programmes that incentivise excessive flying."

Although it is an academic report and a long way from becoming legislation, the recommendations are from a report commissioned by a key government authority. Perhaps more importantly, it has been seized upon by the media and by climate activists.

NATS: 81% of the British public have a positive of aviation; 37% support an environmental levy

The NATS survey however suggests the wider UK public adopts a more holistic approach to the issue of flying, while recognising the importance of environmental concerns. The research was conducted by Savanta ComRes.

According to the NATS report,

  • The British public says the "pros of aviation outweigh the cons";

  • Environmental concerns are increasing but people still want to fly, and recognise the economic importance of the activity to the UK economy

  • Reducing the environmental impact of flying is seen as the biggest benefit of modernising airspace.

According to NATS, "An overwhelming majority of the British public (81%) have a positive view of aviation, which they see as important both personally, and to the UK economy as a whole.

"The annual tracking survey shows that two thirds of adults (67%) say that the pros of aviation outweigh the cons, although this is down five percentage points compared to last year. The decrease may be linked to people's increasing concerns about air and noise pollution and reflects the public's growing environmental consciousness."

But clearly environmental concerns are increasing. Nonetheless, says NATS "the British public do not want to be penalised for flying, whether that's taking fewer flights per year (only 34% agree that people should be discouraged from flying) or paying an environmental levy, with only 37% willing to pay a charge."

The aviation industry needs to take effective action

Understandably, NATS' preoccupation is with air traffic services and improving efficiency in that area.So, as the report notes of the UK public, "they do expect the aviation industry to act and 93% see the most beneficial output of airspace modernisation being more efficient routes that save fuel and reduce environmental impact."

This includes an array of matters such as "modernising the design, technology and operations of UK airspace, ...ending arrival holding and stacking as it exists today, enabling improvements for continuous climbs and descents, reducing noise for communities on the ground and burning less fuel, which will all ultimately enable carbon emission savings."

In NATS' 2019 report, "A new airspace for the future", the operator notes "Our airspace is fundamental to the UK economy and for keeping our island nation connected with the rest of the world so it is essential aircraft can fly expeditiously in and out of the UK." It then goes on to describe the modernisation efficiencies it has developed, in ways that generate savings in both economic and environmental terms.

In summary, the NATS report shows that, of the UK public:

  • 81% have a positive view of aviation and see aviation as important personally and to the UK economy;

  • 67% said the pros of aviation outweigh the cons, down 5ppts year-on-year. NATS said the decrease "reflects the public's growing environmental consciousness";

  • 34% agreed that people should be discouraged from flying;

  • 37% were willing to pay an environmental levy;

  • 93% see more efficient routes that save fuel and reduce environmental impact as the most beneficial result of airspace modernisation.

The NATS report is an important contribution to a debate in which the aviation industry increasingly finds itself on the back foot, in the face of growing popular unrest about the growth of aviation and its increasing environmental footprint.

As noted in CAPA's 2020s Outlook, "Attempts at a global consensus are - understandably - lagging. IATA, previously a proud leader in developing an industry standard of halving emissions by 2050 (more or less in line with the Paris Agreement goals), has quickly been overtaken by events."

The airline industry is finding it very hard to come up with a coherent message to respond to the torrent of anti-flying hyperbolic news. NATS' contribution is one useful voice in this debate.

But the biggest enviro-terrorists remain European governments themselves, who maintain Europe's archaic ATC systems....

In 2018, A4E, Airlines for Europe, observed "Air Traffic Control (ATC) strikes are destroying air traffic and economies across Europe", following a horrendous string of national ATC strikes, led by French air traffic controllers.

But the impact of a multitude of different national ATC networks is an even bigger daily villain in environmental terms.

According to an EU report, "European Aviation Environmental Report 2019", based on data from EASA, EEA, EUROCONTROL, ICAO and the aviation industry, "When comparing the gate-to-gate actual trajectories of all European flights in 2017 against their unimpeded trajectories12, there is an additional 5.8% gate-to-gate CO2 emissions at European level."

That is, for no offsetting benefit, on a daily basis, environmental emissions are increased by up to 6% by the requirement to operate under differing national systems.

Thanks to this says the EU report, "The total additional distance flown in 2017 within the SES area was 222.8 million kilometres, which resulted in approximately 3 million tonnes of additional CO2 emissions."

Measures to introduce improvements under the banner of the Single European Sky ATM Research Programme (SESAR) are having an impact, but the unnecessary annual dumping of 3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions is something only national governments can reverse.

As its contribution to a factual basis for discussion around the issue of aviation and the environment, CAPA will this year provide a daily update on environment-related developments in the airline and airport industries.

Want More Analysis Like This?

CAPA Membership provides access to all news and analysis on the site, along with access to many areas of our comprehensive databases and toolsets.
Find Out More