NATS Aviation Index 2020 - public attitudes towards aviation in the UK

There is increasing public pressure to reduce the impact of flying on the environment, according to Ipsos MORI research conducted on behalf of air traffic service, NATS.

The author(s)

  • Lore Bizgan Public Affairs
  • Lewis Hill Public Affairs
  • Ben Marshall Public Affairs
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The Aviation Index 2020 – NATS annual survey of passenger opinions and attitudes - reveals a major strengthening of public opinion, with 70% of people now demanding climate change action to be the industry’s top priority, an 18- percentage point rise in just two years; 52% identified it as a priority for airlines and organisations responsible for regulation of aviation in 2018, 60% did so last year.

Among a number of other key findings from the survey:

  • Aviation travel preferences before COVID-19 travel restrictions were looking remarkably consistent year on year, despite a slight (but statistically significant) fall in the number of people saying they’d flown in the 12 months before the survey. However, the factors driving choice of airline and airport over the past three years have moved little since 2018, though there is some evidence that price, while still the number one factor, has become slightly less important over time.
  • Views around safety are consistent too, the vast majority feeling that flying is safer nowadays than it’s ever been. However, perceived threats to flight safety have shifted substantially: the proportion who think terrorism presents the biggest risk to flight safety has almost halved since 2018.
  • Most flyers say they have experienced some sort of delay in the past 12 months. For 43%, the delay lasted two hours or more.
  • The impacts of Brexit on travel habits are yet to be felt during this transition period, with limited change in terms of likelihood to travel to different destinations inside and outside the EU. People are still expecting similar impacts in terms of longer queues at passport control and visa requirements. However, fewer people think flight prices to the EU will increase compared with last year, largely due to an increase in the number of people who say they don’t know.
  • However, while much of the data paints a relatively consistent picture across different aspects of aviation, there has been a sea change in public attitudes about aviation and the environment.
  • The proportion agreeing that airport expansion is the right thing to do has dropped considerably, perhaps in response to the successful appeal against Heathrow expansion just days before survey fieldwork was launched. The vast majority (70%) feel that the industry should be prioritising emissions for improvement, almost double the number who think it should prioritise reducing noise (36%), the next highest priority. By a margin of 12:1 (73% vs. 6%), the public think the aviation industry should be prioritising investment in greener technology, such as fully-electric commercial aircraft.
  • Most strikingly, there is evidence that more people are beginning to recognise that this might come at the expense of choice and low cost. For example, more now agree with the statement ‘I don’t think people should be discouraged from flying if they want to, even if this might have a negative impact on the environment’ – having previously been inclined to agree, the public are now evenly split.
  • Furthermore, three in five say they have done something personally to reduce the environmental impacts of flights. While so far this seems largely to have related to finding alternative arrangements for domestic travel, this still provides cause for optimism. On a more cautionary note, though, people are far more likely to say they will do more in future than to have done something personally already to reduce their environmental impact. They are also far more likely to believe responsibility for cleaning up aviation lies with government and the industry than with themselves.
  • When asked to make predictions about the most likely developments to aviation in the long-term future (by 2050), tellingly the public are most sceptical about the ability for the industry to be carbon neutral by then. In contrast, a majority feel that commercial flights being made by electric aircraft and concierge robots at airports are not unrealistic.

Technical note:

The research was conducted online through the Ipsos MORI Online Panel. A total of 1,000 UK members of the panel aged 18+ took part between 4-7 March 2020. Data are weighted to be representative of the UK population. 
 

The author(s)

  • Lore Bizgan Public Affairs
  • Lewis Hill Public Affairs
  • Ben Marshall Public Affairs

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