Jean Luc Devisscher
October 1, 2020

Research carried out on behalf of the UK’s air traffic service provider NATS shows growing concern by the flying public over aviation’s impact on the environment.

Its annual study of attitudes to flying, carried out by IPSOS MORI, showed that 60% of those interviewed wanted to see reducing emissions made the top priority for the aviation industry, a rise of 8% on the previous year. Although still a minority, 38% (in increase from 30% in 2018) were willing to pay some form of a climate change levy on the price of an airline ticket. Meanwhile, NATS has revealed that it saved airlines some 113,500 t of aircraft CO2 emissions in 2018, equating to GBP 18.4 million in fuel costs, and bringing total emissions reductions achieved since 2006 to 8.4 million t. In its latest annual report, however, NATS admits that it will fall short of a 2008 commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by an average of 10% per flight by 2020.

Despite the concerns over the negative environmental impact, the number of respondents to the survey who felt flying should be discouraged fell from 47% to 40%. While there is much public debate over UK airport expansion, only 16% were against it, with support for expansion growing from 48% in 2018 to 57% in 2019. A sizeable minority (45%) of respondents said they did not consider the environmental impact of their flights, with just 31% saying they did. Around a 1,000 people throughout the UK were interviewed for the survey as part of NATS’ annual Aviation Index of public opinion, with 60% saying they had flown by a commercial airline within the previous 12 months and 4% never having flown. “What these results show us is that people are concerned about the real impact aviation has on our environment, but that flying and global connectivity is also totally intrinsic to our way of life and will be even more so after Brexit,” commented Ian Jopson, Head of Environment at NATS. “What is needed is a way to radically improve the efficiency of every flight, part of which is down to more efficient aircraft, but we can also make a big contribution by transforming how our airspace is structured and managed,” Jopson said.

NATS is enabling flights to operate continuous descents and direct routes that burn less fuel but Jopson said a more radical wholesale redesign was needed of the UK’s flight paths given many air routes had been designed 50 years ago. Alongside many of the UK’s major airports, NATS said it would be bringing forward proposals at the end of 2020 on how to modernise UK airspace, which would likely include fuel-saving measures to keep aircraft higher for longer and reducing low-level stack holding at airports.