Analysis: Major survey confirms popularity of flying

Research on public attitudes to aviation in Europe has highlighted the popularity of flying but also a lack of trust in airlines’ environmental claims and support for taxing frequent flyers. Ian Taylor reports

The survey of more than 12,000 adults in six major aviation markets by research organisation More in Common found minority support for the oft repeated industry claim that growth in aviation boosts economic growth.

It found 59% of recent flyers and 68% of non-flyers thought the economy could grow without people flying more.

More: Majority in Europe reject aviation’s claim to boost economic growth

Most consumers would back levy on frequent flyers, research suggests

At the same time, the survey found evidence that levies on frequent flyers and restrictions on private jets would have majority public support in Europe’s major markets.

Half the respondents (53%) thought passengers on private jets should pay more to fly and two out of five (43%) would support an outright ban on private jets, with only 15% opposed.

The same proportion (53%) agreed the cost of decarbonising aviation “should be paid for by taxing jet fuel or raising ticket prices”.

Alongside these results, the More in Common survey found a lack of trust in airlines and a “general scepticism” toward aviation despite “a generally positive view of flying”.

The researchers suggested respondents saw airlines as “driven by incentives to downplay their environmental impact” and concluded: “The public do not trust airlines to tell the truth. Most people don’t believe airlines are being honest about their environmental impacts.

“People are likely to see through much of the ‘green’ communications from airlines. Few buy the green image many airlines project.”

Three out of five respondents (59%) said they would support regulations requiring airlines to publish environmental data.

The researchers concluded: “There is clear demand for airlines to make meaningful progress on their environmental impact.” However, they also suggested: “Awareness on many climate aviation policies is low.”

This included awareness of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) which the research found was “very low”.

About half the respondents said they would prefer to fly with an airline which uses SAF. But 43% in the UK, 49% in France and 57% in Germany, “would not trust an airline that claimed its fuel was sustainable”.

Concern about climate

Two-thirds of UK respondents (67%) said they are worried about climate change, with 24% “very worried”.

More than two in five in the UK (44%) thought airlines “are not doing enough” to reduce their impact on the environment – on a par with other countries except Germany where 50% said carriers are not doing enough.

However, half the respondents in the UK (50%) said they would fly more often if money and time were not an issue, with only one in eight (13%) saying they would fly more if not for the environmental impact.

The UK and Spain recorded the most frequent flyers, with 7% of respondents flying five or more times a year and one in four (24%) flying at least three times. One third (33%) in the UK had flown once or twice in the last 12 months, while 45% had not flown.

Half the respondents in the UK said they “would prefer to fly with an airline that uses SAF, but only 5% would ‘very likely’ believe an airline which described its fuel as sustainable.

Half the survey respondents (50%) in France also aid they were unlikely to believe an airline’s claim to use ‘sustainable’ fuel and the researchers noted “Strong support for recent legislation banning the shortest domestic flights in France.”

The French government banned domestic flights where there is a rail alternative taking 2.5 hours or less in June last year.

The survey found 65% rated this a ‘very good’ or ‘somewhat good’ policy, and only 10% rated it bad. One in four (25%) thought the ban didn’t go far enough.

In Germany, almost half the respondents (45%) considered increasing global air travel “broadly bad”, higher than anywhere else in Europe, although 31% in the UK and 38% in the Netherlands agreed.

Three out of four Germans (73%) considered the economy could grow without aviation growth. Only 16% rated flying economically ‘essential’.

Three out of five respondents (59%) in Spain also thought the economy could grow without more flying and only 28% thought Spain should aim to increase its tourism arrivals.

Two in five (43%) agreed with reducing the number of flights to Spain “to protect the environment”.

Half the respondents in the Netherlands (52%) considered the Dutch government is not doing enough to address the environmental impact of flying and supported a levy on frequent flyers despite protests against climate policies in other areas of the Dutch economy.

  • The survey, by research firm More in Common, was published in April. The report can be read in full here.

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