An annual independent survey carried out for UK air navigation services provider NATS has found a strengthening of public attitudes towards climate change action and a demand for the aviation industry to treat it as a top priority. The vast majority (70%) of those interviewed across the UK – an 18-percentage point rise in just two years – agreed that emissions reduction was the highest priority for improvement by the industry, almost double the number who think it should prioritise noise (36%). By a margin of 12:1, the public believe the industry should be prioritising investment in greener technology, such as fully-electric commercial aircraft. Just 39% supported airport expansion, down from 57% in 2019. The survey was carried out by Ipsos MORI in early March, just before Covid-19 brought air travel to a virtual halt.
As well as a decline in backing for airport expansion, the NATS’ Aviation Index 2020 survey revealed a significant increase in the proportion who disagreed 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’, rising to 32% from 22% in 2019.
The survey shows that although three in five say they have personally acted to reduce the environmental impact of the flights that have taken, such as finding alternative arrangements for domestic travel, people are far more likely to say they will do more in future than to have actually done something already to reduce their impact. When choosing which airline and airport, price is still the number one factor, particularly with younger travellers, but has become slightly less important over time.
A large majority (78%) believe the environmental responsibility lies with industry and government rather than individuals (6%). When asked to make predictions about the most likely developments to aviation in the long term, only a quarter expect the industry to be carbon neutral by 2050, although a half believe electric aircraft will have overtaken conventional equivalents by then.
Unsurprisingly, the survey found older people are far less tolerant of noise than the younger generation and less likely to agree to experiencing more aircraft noise if it meant reducing it for others living under a flight path.
The research was conducted online between 4-6 March 2020 through the Ipsos MORI Online Panel, with 1,000 members of the panel taking part and the data weighted to be representative of the UK population.
“Aviation is an intrinsic force for good in the world and the pandemic has shown us how much we all rely on making human connections. Flying unites people, cultures and businesses while also employing 80 million people around the world, and yet the results of the Aviation Index are sending us a very clear message – we must urgently address climate change,” said Ian Jopson, Head of Sustainable Operations at NATS.
“It is up to us as an industry to demonstrate that we can do that without sacrificing the enormous benefits that flying brings to us all.”
NATS said with traffic levels at record lows as a result of the pandemic, there was an historic opportunity to look at how UK airspace could be redesigned to take advantage of the navigation capabilities of modern aircraft and cut emissions and fuel burn.
“Navigating the Covid crisis is an enormous challenge for our industry right now but we cannot afford to ignore climate change,” said Jopson. “In fact, it may be an opportunity to put in place lasting benefits so we can continue to enjoy flying in the years and decades to come. It’s up to us as an industry to rise to the occasion.”