Aviation employment figure of 150,000 jobs in 2009 given by DfT is wrong. It was 120,000.

The DfT’s Aviation Scoping Document, produced for the consultation that started in March 2011, had the confident assertion that:  the air transport sector “provides about 150,000 jobs in the UK and  supports many more indirectly”. However, when challenged on this figure, it emerges that it is incorrect, and much too high.  The correct number is 120,000 as the average for 2009.  Some wrong figures were used, and then unjustifiably rounded up to produce the incorrect 150,000 figure. The figure for employment in the aviation sector is obtained by adding the SIC 51 (Air transport) and SIC 52.23 (Service activities incidental to air transport) data from the government’s Annual Business Survey. The DfT say they will ensure that this error is not made again, and employment figures are not inflated artificially.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that using the same definition (explained below), the 2003 Air Transport White Paper stated that there were 200,000 direct jobs in aviation.

Here is what the Aviation Scoping Study said (Page 12) March 2011 :


2.3   In 2010, UK airports handled 211 million passengers (14) and served nearly 400 international destinations (15). The air transport sector’s turnover in 2009 was around £26 billion and the sector directly generated around £9 billion of economic output. It provides about 150,000 jobs in the UK and  supports many more indirectly (16). Goods worth £95 billion were shipped by air freight between the UK and non-EU countries, representing 38 per cent of the UK’s extra-EU trade by value (17).

(14)     UK Airport Statistics 2010, CAA


(15)     DfT analysis of CAA airport statistics on passenger air transport movements shows UK airports served 383 international destinations in 2010. These destinations had the equivalent of at least a weekly service from the UK i.e. at least 52 departures a year.

(16)     ‘Air transport’ sector as defined by UK Standard Industrial Classification of Economic Activity (2007, SIC 51)    http://www.statistics.gov.uk/statbase/product.asp?vlnk=14012.

Turnover, economic output (GVA) and employment figures are from ONS Annual Business Survey 2009, Section H: Transport and Storage, adding SIC 51 (air transport) and SIC 52.23 (service activities incidental to air transportation), found at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/abi/downloads/abs-section-h.xls . ‘Air transport’ covers a wide range of activities including passenger scheduled, charter, taxi, helicopter, pleasure and sightseeing flights and freight transport. ‘Service activities incidental to air transportation’ includes airport, airfield and ground services and air traffic control activities.

These estimates do not cover a variety of other sectors related to air transport including the manufacture, repair and maintenance of aircraft, the construction of airports and runways, cargo handling and warehousing. This is because data is not disaggregated to a level that is usable when referring to air transportation. Secondly, these estimates do not include the activity of firms that constitute the air transport supply-chain where those activities are captured in other SIC codes (i.e. the indirect contribution of the aviation industry.

(17)     CHIEF Non-EU data, HMRC, 2009 https://www.uktradeinfo.com/index.cfm?&hasFlashPlayer=true  

 see the SSE document at


2. Estimating aviation’s employment impact

2.1  Aviation is defined, according to the UK Standard Industry Classification (‘SIC’) as ‘Air
transport’ (SIC 51) and ‘Service activities incidental to air transportation’ (SIC 52.23). For all
practical purposes exactly the same definition applied at the time of the 2003 ATWP which
stated that the UK aviation industry provided 200,000 direct jobs in the UK.

2.2  The DfT’s 2011 Scoping Document states that the air transport sector ‘…provides about 150,000 jobs in the UK and supports many more indirectly.’ At first glance it appears that the DfT, in referring to the ‘air transport sector’ rather than ‘aviation’ is using a narrower definition than before. However, the Scoping Document goes on to explain that ‘…[its] employment figures are from ONS2 2009 Annual Business Survey… adding SIC 51 (air transport) and SIC 52.23 (service activities incidental to air transportation)’. In other words, it is the same definition as has long been used for aviation and it is far wider than ‘air transport’. It includes airport jobs as well as airline jobs.

2.3  Moreover, the aggregate of employment categories SIC 51 and SIC 52.23 was, on
average, 120,000 in 2009 (down from 142,000 in 2008). It is not clear why the DfT has
rounded the 2009 figure up to 150,000 direct jobs.
1 The relevant SIC groups in 2003 were SIC 62 (‘Air Transport’) and SIC 63.23 (‘Supporting air transport services’).

2.4   A 1999 aviation industry-sponsored report by Oxford Economic Forecasting3 (‘OEF’) put the number of direct jobs in UK aviation at 180,000, equivalent to 1,132 jobs for every million passengers carried and, in a 2006 follow-up report4, OEF updated this to 186,000 direct jobs, equivalent to 862 jobs per million passengers. This implies a remarkable 31% productivity improvement in the space of six years, albeit on the basis of the crude productivity measure of jobs per million passengers.

2.5  A third industry-sponsored report, this time by Oxford Economic Research Associates
(‘Oxera’)5, published in November 2009, concluded that aviation directly provided 141,000 UK jobs in 2007. This is equivalent to 646 jobs per million passengers, which suggests an even more remarkable 75% improvement in productivity in the space of nine years.

2.6  For the UK aviation industry to achieve a 75% productivity improvement in the space of
nine years stretches credulity but it may actually be broadly correct. The period 1998-2009
coincides with rapid growth in the low cost carrier (‘LCC’) sector and one of the side effects of aggressive competition from the LCCs has been to force traditional full service airlines to address their cost base, particularly labour costs. British Airways, for example, shed 42% of its workforce between 1998/99 and 2009/10.6



 ONS Standard Industrial Classification

Standard Industrial Classification  see  http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/classifications/current-standard-classifications/standard-industrial-classification/sic2007—explanatory-notes.pdf  for the list showing the classification including 51 and 52.

(Pages 74 and 76).

51 Air transport
This division includes the transport of passengers or freight by air or via space.
This division excludes:
–– crop spraying, see 01.61
–– overhaul of aircraft or aircraft engines, see 33.16
–– operation of airports, see 52.23
–– aerial advertising (sky-writing), see 73.11
–– aerial photography, see 74.20
51.1 Passenger air transport
51.10 Passenger air transport
51.10/1 Scheduled passenger air transport
This subclass includes:
–– transport of passengers by air over regular routes and on regular schedules
This subclass also includes:
–– renting of air-transport equipment with operator for the purpose of scheduled passenger transportation
This subclass excludes:
–– renting of air transport equipment without operator, see 77.35
51.10/2 Non-scheduled passenger air transport
This subclass includes:
–– non-scheduled transport of passengers by air
–– scenic and sightseeing flights
–– regular charter flights for passengers
–– general aviation activities, such as:
■■ transport of passengers by aero clubs for instruction or pleasure
51.2 Freight air transport and space transport
51.21 Freight air transport
This class includes:
–– transport freight by air over regular routes and on regular schedules
–– non-scheduled transport of freight by air
This class also includes:
–– renting of air transport equipment with operator for the purpose of freight transportation

51.22 Space transport
This class includes:
launching of satellites and space vehicles
–– space transport of freight and passengers


+ part of 52:

52.23 Service activities incidental to air transportation
This class includes:
–– activities related to air transport of passengers, animals or freight:
■■ operation of terminal facilities such as airway terminals etc.
■■ airport and air-traffic-control activities
■■ ground service activities on airfields etc.
This class also includes:
–– firefighting and fire-prevention services at airports
This class excludes:
–– cargo handling, see 52.24
–– operation of flying schools, see 85.32, 85.53