CAA publishes report on trends in UK air passenger traffic

11.1.2008   (CAA)

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has published a report, Recent Trends in Growth
of UK Air Passenger Demand, which sets out an analysis of how growth in different
segments of passenger traffic at UK airports has changed in recent years and the
likely causes of these changes.

It investigates four factors:

– broader economic trends,

– competition with rail,

– aviation cost pressures and

– attitudes towards the environment.

It also examines the propensity to fly of different leisure passenger types,
in particular the relationship with income, demographic factors and property ownership

The press release is at:

The full report (77 pages) is at:

Another survey, “Air Services at UK Regional Airports” (152 pages) is at:


Some of the findings of the reports:

Slowing growth overall and in some passenger segments …

– Passenger traffic at UK airports has grown at an average annual rate of about
6% since the mid 1970s, more than twice the rate of economic growth in the UK.

– However, over the last few years the growth rate, although still positive,
has fallen to approximately 2% per annum. The decline has affected both the London
and the regional airports.

– UK air passenger traffic growth in 2006 was slower than in 14 other developed
aviation markets in the EU, many of which saw GDP growth similar to the UK.

– The decline in the passenger growth rate of no frills services from the UK
is marked, but the growth rate remains around 10%.   By contrast, both full service
and charter services are now showing negative annual growth rates.

– The slowdown in growth since 2005 is not shared equally across all passenger
segments, but mainly affects the two largest: international holidays taken by
UK residents (where traffic grew by only 0.2% in the year to June 2007) and domestic
travel (where traffic fell by 1.4% in the year to October 2007).

– UK resident international holiday travel, (around one third of all trips in
2006), shows a lagged relationship with changes in UK consumer expenditure growth.
Much of the slowdown can therefore be attributed to a slowdown in consumer expenditure
growth experienced in 2005 and 2006.

– Growth in domestic air travel, which accounts for 20% of all trips, seems to
have been mainly affected by competition from other transport modes, particularly
due to improvements in long distance rail services and changes in airport security
that have increased total journey times for air travel.

– Airlines and passengers have also experienced cost increases, particularly
through rising jet fuel prices which have almost tripled since early 2004, but
also through the doubling of Air Passenger Duty in February 2007. The slowdown
in growth of UK passengers significantly pre-dates this increase in APD, so it
cannot have been the primary cause.

… but continued strong growth in others

– international business (which accounts for 12% of all passengers), leisure
travel to visit friends and relatives (15%) and non-UK resident holiday travel
(6%), have all continued to increase at or above the historic growth rate for
total traffic of 6% per annum.

– the growth in UK resident passengers visiting friends and relatives abroad
has been sustained mainly by nationals of other EU countries resident in the UK,
with annual growth rates in the last couple of years exceeding 20%.  

Who flies most …

– UK residents who used UK airports took, on average, around 2.25 return flights
per year for leisure purposes in 2007.

[- up to half of UK residents will not fly at all in any 12 month period. ]

– This analysis indicates that propensity to fly is most significantly related
to household income (with higher income households taking more flights).   households
with total earnings over £115,000 per year were likely to take around 60% more
trips per year than those earning less than £40,000.

–   singles and childless couples taking 50% more flights than families

– propensity to fly is related to ownership of property abroad.   Owning a property
abroad increased the number of trips taken by an individual per year by around

– for instance, that those passengers in single person households earning over
£115,000 per year take, on average, nearly 2.5 times as many trips per year as
couples with children whose household income is less than £40,000 per year.

– Historic trends in UK demographics point towards a growth in those lifestyles
with a higher propensity to fly (for instance, increased ownership of property
abroad and couples having children later in life), strengthening the growth of
the industry and indicating that the recent slowdown in growth in some UK-based
segments is unlikely to have arisen from changing demographics.

Future outlook

– At present, there have been no more than 2 years of slower traffic growth,
and the evidence would suggest that this has been mainly as a result of the current
economic environment and competition from domestic rail services, rather than
any longer term, structural change in demand for air services.

– As yet, air passengers’ attitudes to the environment do not seem to be having
a significant effect on the demand for air travel.

The updated CAA passenger survey 2006   reveals that:

– regional airports have continued to grow at a faster rate than London airports,
and in 2006 handled 42% of passengers at UK airports
– Between 2000–2006, passenger numbers at regional airports grew at an average
of 7% each year, and the London airports averaged growth of 3%
– Traffic growth at regional airports was, however, noticeably less strong in
2006 (+ 4%) compared with the three previous years (around 9% to 11% annually).
– in 2006, 24 UK regional airports exceeded 0.5m passengers annually
Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh have remained the most significant regional airports over the last 15 years.
– The next  5 biggest airports in terms of total traffic in 2006 are Bristol, Newcastle, Belfast, Liverpool and East Midlands, each in the range 4.7m–5.7m

– the strongest growth continues to be in international scheduled services, where
passenger numbers have doubled between 2002 and 2006

– 8 regional airports now offer daily scheduled flights to 12 or more international
destinations, whereas only Birmingham and Manchester did in 1990
– the number of UK regional airports offering daily scheduled flights to  5 or
more international destinations increased from 6in 1990 to 13 in 2004, and to
17 in 2006.

– 6 regional airports now offer regular direct scheduled flights to the US

– 4 regional airports offer regular direct scheduled flights to the Middle East