No-frills Carriers: Revolution or Evolution? - A Study by the UK Civil Aviation Authority

The growth of the “low-cost” or “no-frills” airline sector has been one of the most significant developments in the UK travel sector over the last decade. No-frills carriers have had a significant impact on the aviation industry and are perceived as having revolutionised the way people travel.

Much has already been written about no-frills carriers, and this paper does not attempt to provide a definitive description of what they are, how they operate or their history. Rather, it aims to set the “no-frills revolution” in context, to understand better the impacts it has had on the sector, on infrastructure and on the public, and to reflect on those issues that seem most relevant to the current state of the UK aviation sector and likely future trends.

This approach is in line with the CAA’s role in supporting the long-term sustainability of the industry: seeking to understand trends in the market, how these may drive change, and publishing its views from time to time on such matters to help inform the industry and policymakers. The CAA has an extensive database of information on airlines and airports, as well as passenger survey information. This paper draws heavily on these sources to try to understand more clearly the impact of the rapid rise of no-frills carriers.

It seems an appropriate time, over a decade since the deregulation of the airline industry in Europe, to examine how no-frills carriers have affected the aviation industry in the UK, and perhaps more importantly, the flying habits of society at large. The general perception of no-frills carriers is that they have revolutionised air travel, both in terms of how they operate, and their effect on traffic growth, on passengers and society more generally. This paper explores the extent to which this perception of “revolution” is borne out by the available evidence on the UK market.