The Problems

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The main problems caused by aviation, as we see it can be summed up as:

Climate Change

Global aviation carbon emissions


Tourism deficit

Government policy


Not as many jobs are created as the aviation industry claim

 Key facts and figures

How many flights per year, how many planes, etc – lots of data


Love Miles

“I’m trying hard to be eco-friendly.  But please don’t ask me to give up flying to visit my family”

VAT and Fuel Duty

Air travel is zero rated for VAT and pays no fuel duty.

All these points are backed by mainstream research – read more in our Briefings and Information section.


How many people are flying every year, worldwide?

IATA says the number of scheduled air passengers rose from 3,145,000,000 in 2013 to 4,579,000,000  (=  4.58 billion) anticipated in 2019.   ie. a rise of 46%.

IATA said 2.5 billion flew in 2009.  

IATA says the US has the most originating international air passengers with  UK, Germany, Spain and France next.  It says international passengers worldwide were 952 million in 2009 and domestic passengers were 1.5 billion in 2009.  IATA said (Feb 2011) they want to ” handle 16 billion passengers and 400 million tonnes of freight” by 2050.

There are around 800 million air passengers annually in Europe. And around 222 million in the UK (2011 figure, excluding transit).

IATA said (June 2012 link  that in 2011, aviation transported some 2.8 billion passengers (and 48 million tons of cargo).

See also World Bank data on the number of air passengers, country by country, 2002 – 2010.

ATAG says in 2012 there were “over 3 billion” passengers, but it gives no source.


How much carbon does the global aviation industry emit?

IATA says the amount of jet fuel consumed was 74 billion gallons in 2013 and 97 billion gallons anticipated in 2019.   ie. it rose by 31%.

IATA says the CO2 emissions of the global airline industry were were 710 million tonnes in 2013, and 915 million tonnes anticipated in 2019.  ie. they rose by 30.6%.          [ see link ]

IATA says the airline industry emitted 669 million tonnes CO2 in 2012.  [674 million tonnes in 2013  – up 2.6% on 2012].   [ IATA figures produced in 2019 say the CO2 figure was 710 million tonnes in 2013.  See link ]

IATA says 649 million tonnes CO2 in 2010  (compared with 627million tonnes in 2009).

(529 million tonnes in 2004, about 630 m in 2005 and 679 m in 2006).  About a 10 – 11% increase in CO2 emissions between 2005 and 2010.

IATA says: “Total climate change impact (including radiative forcing from other greenhouse gases) is 3%, and projected to grow to 5% by 2050 (IPCC)”.


IATA says globally aviation is responsible for:

  • 669 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (2011) – compared to 34 billion tonnes of CO2 (2011) from human activities globally [IATA says 689 million tonnes in 2012].  In 2012  global CO2 emissions rose to 35.6 billion tonnes – according to  figures from the Global Carbon Project,  link ]
  • 2% of “human-induced” global CO2 emissions
  • 12% of CO2 emissions from all transport sources, compared to 74% from road transport
  • 3% of the total man-made contribution to climate change


ATAG said (? for 2011) : “If aviation were a country, it would rank 19th in the world in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), generating $539 billion of GDP per year, considerably larger than some members of the G20 (and around the same size as Switzerland).  [Compared to its position as the 7th largest CO2 emitter – see below].


From ATAG for 2015

Worldwide, flights produced 770 million tonnes of CO2 in 2015. [Figure for international aviation, not including domestic, was 492,000 tonnes in 2013].

The aviation industry consumes around 1.5 billion barrels of Jet-A1 fuel annually. Aviation is responsible for 12% of carbon emissions from all transport sources, compared to 74% from road transport.
If aviation were a country, it would rank 21st in the world in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), generating $664 billion of GDP per year (in 2015), (around the same size as Switzerland).
Check details against

If aviation were a country, it would rank about 13th in the world, in terms of its carbon emissions. That is about the same (in 2013) as Saudi Arabia.
Check details against

In 2013 the ranking of countries by carbon emissions was (Wikipedia):

1. China 10,540,000
2. United States 5,334,000
3. European Union 3,415,000
4. India 2,341,000
5. Russia 1,766,000
6. Japan 1,278,000
7. Germany 767,000
8. International Shipping 624,000 –
9. Iran 618,000
10. South Korea 610,000
11. Canada 565,000
12. Brazil 501,000
13. Saudi Arabia 494,000 1
14. International Aviation 492,000 –

Figures from ATAG show there were 649 million tonnes of CO2 emitted by airlines worldwide in 2010.  link

In 2011 it was 676 million tonnes.

Then 770 million tonnes in 2015.

That’s 18.6% higher in 2015 than in 2010.
And 14% higher carbon emissions in 2015 than in 2011, in that time global aviation went from equivalent to the 19th biggest country by GDP to being the 21st biggest.


See also Climate change effect of the carbon dioxide emissions, and other gases emitted at altitude

World consumption of jet fuel index mundi

and growth rate of jet fuel use per year


Global [aviation] CO2 output grew to 674 million tonnes in 2013 up 2.6% – clearly new technology is yet to impact emissions, and the IATA goal of 1.5% fuel efficiency to 2020 is currently off track.,-Aviation-Economics-and-the-World-of-Air-Transport


How much jet fuel is burned each year by the global aviation industry?

Aviation accounts for 12% of the fuel consumed by the entire transportation sector, which is equivalent to roughly 1.5 to 1.7 billion barrels of kerosene jet fuel annually (about 70 billion gallons).  A  barrel of oil is 42 US gallons (34.97 imperial gallons  or 158.98 litres)

There can be 6 to 8 barrels of oil in a ton, depending on density. For example: 256 US gallons [6.1 bbl – oil barrels] of heavy distillate per ton, 272 gallons [6.5 bbl – oil barrels] of crude oil per ton, and 333 gallons [7.9 bbl] of gasoline per ton.  link 

So presuming 7 barrels of oil in a ton, and aviation is using some 1.7 billion barrels of kerosene per year, that is around 11.9 or 12 billion tons.

A barrel of crude oil is about 42 US gallons and depending on the grade of oil, can make about 19 US gallons of gasoline, 10 gallons of diesel, 4 gallons of jet fuel  [ie. that is 9.5% of the barrel that can be made into jet kerosene] and another 9 gallons of other oil products such as liquid petroleum gas, plastics, lubricants or heating oil.  So it takes about  10 barrels of crude oil to produce one barrel of jet fuel.

[Analysts project that aviation biofuels may replace roughly 1% of kerosene by 2015, 25% by 2025, and 30% by 2030. The CCC expects biofuel may replace 10% of UK jet fuel by 2050.  So if the industry just got 5% of its current fuel demand from biofuel, that would require 3.5 billion gallons per year. Wikipedia says in 2010 world biofuel production – all biofuels, not only biodiesel – was 28 billion gallons US, of which 82% was bioethanol, of no  use in aircraft. Only about 5 billion gallons of biodiesel were produced worldwide in 2010, much of it from palm oil.  The 28 billion gallons provided 2.7% of the world’s fuels for road transport ].

Jet A Fuel produces about 9.57 kg CO2 / gallon of fuel burned. Which is about 2.5 kg CO2 per litre.

[If the global aviation industry produced 649  million tonnes of CO2 in 2010 – see above – this equates to around 70 billion gallons, as 649m / 9.57 = approx 68 billion].




How do global aviation emissions compare with emissions by large countries? It comes 7th.

Aviation emissions, worldwide (2009) were 7th compared to whole countries, after China, USA, India, Russia, Japan and Germany. Then global aviation.

Sources:  International Civil Aviation Organization, International Energy Agency, United Nations Environment Programme)



How many commercial planes are there in the world?

Difficult to get an accurate figure, but perhaps in the region of 34,000 in 2011.  Boeing said (July 2012) that it hoped to sell 34,000 planes by 2032, and so double the number.  ie.  it expects 60.000 odd by 2030?   It also said that it expects the world freighter fleet to nearly double from 1,740 aircraft currently  in 2012, to 3,200 in 20 years’ time.



What proportion of UK citizens fly in any one year?

Around 50% – or 47% in 2010

In 2008 the Department for Transport publication, “Public experiences and attitudes to air travel” said “The survey indicates that 51% of adults had not flown in the last 12 months. This corresponds with the results of the 2002 Omnibus Survey, where 51% of adults had not flown in 2001. However, as the report notes, although the proportion of the population who have flown in the past year is the same in both surveys, in the more recent survey a higher proportion of air travellers were making multiple trips. In 2006, 30% of air travellers said they had flown three or more times in the last year; in 2002 the figure was 23%.”  (page 55 of link)

Also,  the DfT survey ‘Public experiences of and attitudes towards air travel’. of July 2010      ( link ) showed that 47% of adults had flown in the previous 12 months (down on the 49% recorded in the 2001 survey).  It states (on page 2):  “Just under half (47%) of adults had flown at least once in the last 12 months; 37% had made at least one short-haul flight, 18% had made a long-haul flight and 8% had made a domestic flight within the UK. A fifth (20%) of adults had made just one flight, 11% two flights and 16% three or more flights. These proportions are similar to the 2006 and 2008 Omnibus surveys “

In 2014 the DfT’s “Public experiences of and attitudes towards air travel. 2014″ said: “Just under half (48%) of adults surveyed had flown at least once in the last 12 months and 10% had made 4 or more flights.”  Outward and return flights and any transfers were counted as one trip. either within the United Kingdom or to go abroad. Short-haul flights to Europe were the most common; 37% of adults had taken a short-haul flight during the last 12 months, 18% had taken a long-haul flight and 7% had flown within the UK.

Frequency of flying increases with income and socio-economic group. Among respondents in managerial and professional occupations, 71% had made at least one flight in the last 12 months compared with 50% of those in intermediate or routine and 36% in manual occupations.

Number of flights taken 2006 to 2014

2.5  Respondents living in London or the South East were also more likely to have travelled by plane than people in the rest of the country. Over half (57%) of people in London and the South East had made at least one flight and 23% had made three or more in the last 12 months compared to 44% and 11% respectively in the rest of the country. People living in London and the South East were also more likely to have made a long-haul flight (29%) than people in the rest of Great Britain (14%) but had a similar propensity to fly within the UK.

A quarter of those who had not flown at all in the previous year said they expected to make more trips in the next year. Among those who had made three or more flights in the previous year, 14% anticipated making more flights and 20% anticipated making fewer flights in the coming year.

Respondents who expected to make more flights were asked why they believed this would be the case. The most common reason, cited by half of those that expected to make more flights, was because they wanted to go abroad more. Other reasons included changes in personal circumstances (20%) and having friends/relatives who had moved abroad (10%).

(the survey is of a bit over 1,000  adults aged 16 and over living in private households in Great Britain.)



How many seat kilometres do UK airlines fly each year?

(one seat kilometre is one person flying one kilometre)

YearAvailable seat kilometres(000 000)Seat kilometres used(000 000)% of seat km used

The increase in seat kilometres used – by UK airlines – between 1991 and 2011 was 153%.  The increase was 22% between 2001 and 2011.

Data from CAA AirlineStatistics.  Seat Kilometres available and used 1989 to 2011

See also  Seat kilometres used by UK airlines over the past 5 years



What proportion of UK airport passengers are flying for business reason, compared to holidays or visiting friends and family?

In 2010, the proportion of business passengers (as compared to leisure, including visiting friends and family) was 29.9% at Heathrow, 20.4% at Gatwick, 29.5% at Manchester, 19.6% at Luton and 17.7% at Stansted.  Data from the Health Protection Agency shows the proportion of business passengers has been falling steadily since 2000.

See Business passengers




Average flight distance by UK airlines is increasing

CAA Data from 2005       CAA data from 2011

[Seat km used divided by number of passengers uplifted – so an average figure].

British Airways averaged 3,518 km per passenger (on average) in 2011 but 3,394 km in 2005.

EasyJet averaged 1,136 km per passenger in 2011 but  954 km in 2005.

[Virgin Atlantic (almost no increase)  averaged 7,197 km per passenger in 2011 and 7,146 km in 2005].

Thomson Airways averaged 2.983 km per passenger in 2011 but 2,447 km by Thomson Fly in 2005.

Thomas Cook averaged 3,440 km per passenger in 2011 but 2,907 km in 2005.

BMI averaged 1,391 km per passenger  in 2011 but 910 in 2005.




Which airlines have the largest number of annual revenue passenger kilometres (RPK)?

This puts Delta Airlines top, with over 300 billion passenger kilometres in 2011.

From Financial Times



Which are the largest airports in the world?

The world’s busiest airports 2015

1. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport
2. Beijing Capital International Airport
3. Dubai International Airport
4. O’Hare International Airport
5. Tokyo Haneda Airport
6. London Heathrow Airport
7. Los Angeles International Airport
8. Hong Kong International Airport
9. Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport
10. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport



What is ICAO doing so far to cut global aviation emissions?

International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 2010 resolution:

“Resolves that States and relevant organizations will work through ICAO to achieve a
global annual average fuel efficiency improvement of 2% until 2020 and an aspirational global fuel efficiency improvement rate of 2% per annum from 2021 to 2050, calculated on the basis of volume of fuel used per revenue tonne kilometre performed”. (page 11) and

Also resolves that, without any attribution of specific obligations to individual States,
ICAO and its member States with relevant organizations will work together to strive to achieve a collective medium term global aspirational goal of keeping the global net carbon emissions from international aviation from 2020 at the same level, …”  (page 11)

What their phrase “carbon neutral growth” from 2020 means is only that airlines can offset emissions above 2020 levels starting in 2021.  No need to actually cut emissions.

The 2010 ICAO resolution itself recognizes the proposal is not enough. It says:

“the aspirational goal of 2% annual fuel efficiency improvement is unlikely to deliver the level of reduction necessary to stabilize and then reduce aviation’s absolute emissions contribution to climate change, and that goals of more ambition will need to be considered to deliver a sustainable path for aviation.”

The proposal by IATA, the aviation industry, is even weaker than the ICAO resolution, and allows emissions to continue to grow.

Above: the emissions-reductions proposal of the International Air Transport Association IATA) (green), and business-as-usual emissions (red-brown).




Aviation and Noise

 Millions of people are disturbed by aircraft noise….and it will get worse

Figures below from the 2001 National Noise Study carried out by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) for DEFRA – the most comprehensive study of recent years.

Heard it:
Aircraft Noise                                  71% had heard it
Traffic Noise                                    84%    ”    ”   
Neighbour/neighbourhood Noise        81%    ”    “

Bothered, annoyed or disturbed by it:  
Aircraft Noise                               20% bothered to some extent
Traffic Noise                                 40%    ”       ”         ”
Neighbour/neighbourhood Noise     37%    ”        ”        “

Aircraft Noise                                7% bothered moderately 
Traffic Noise                                 22%    ”        ”           ”    
Neighbour/neighbourhood Noise     19%     ”       ”           ”     
Aircraft Noise                               2% very or extremely bothered
Traffic Noise                                 8%       ”       ”           ”              
Neighbour/neighbourhood Noise     2%        ”       ”          ”         

Individual planes have become considerably quieter since the 1970s but this has been off-set by the huge growth in aircraft numbers – causing more noise in total. 

Planes are becoming slighly less noisy (a better term than “quieter”) but the changes are small. Most people cannot distinguish a difference in volume between sounds less than 3 decibels apart.  The 2003 Aviation White Paper admited that, if growth continues at the present rate, the noise problems will become worse.  The ‘silent  plane’ still remains no more than a gleam in the researcher’s eye.
The noise from aircraft is measured by airports, and by government, in an unsatisfactory manner.  It is averaged out over a period of hours, giving an average number that is of limited value.  If an airport is open for, say, 16 hours during the day, the average may be over 16 hours.  This has the effect that, back in the  days when Concorde (which was phenomenally noisy) you could get the same average noise over an hour from just one Concorde and on other planes, as with perhaps 20 of the modern planes, which are signifanantly quieter.  However, people on the ground may find the continuous noise from planes going overhead every few minutes more annoying.  For most people, the noise nuisance depends both on the intensity of the sound, as well as the number of noise events.
The Government believes that “significant community annoyance” from noise only starts at around 57 decibels.  However, other studies show that annoyance starts much below this. The ANASE study found that significant annoyance began at a lower level, but this study was shelved several years back, and has not been used – possibly in part as its findings were inconvenient.
The Government is aware both that the method of measuring aircraft noise, and the degree of annoyance it causes, are matters of great concern to many people, and they are attempting to find some solutions. But it will not be quick.

What legal controls are there on aircraft noise in the UK?


Aircraft noise is considered to be outside the law, in terms of noise nuisance. This stems the Civil Aviation Act 1949 [ie. a very out of date law]

1949 c. 67 Part IV Section 40

This states:

Liability of aircraft in respect of trespass, nuisance and surface damage

“(1). No action shall lie in respect of trespass or in respect of nuisance, by reason only of the flight of an aircraft over any property at a height above the ground, which, having regard to wind, weather and all the circumstances of the case is reasonable, or the ordinary incidents of such flight so long as the provisions of Part II and this Part of this Act and any Order in Council or order made under Part II or this Part of this Act are duly complied with.”

By contrast, car horns cannot be sounded in residential areas after 11.30pm, by law; ice cream vans cannot sound their chimes before 12 noon or after 7pm; noisy fireworks cannot be set off by unauthorised persons between 11pm and 7am; and if your local council has resolved to apply the provisions of the Noise Act 1996 (in England, Wales or Northern Ireland), it must take reasonable steps to investigate complaints of noise from dwellings or licensed premises between 11pm and 7am.


Have planes actually become quieter in the past few years, and are A380s quieter than 747s?

Figures from NATS below:

NATS plane types


NATS noise at various heights and plane types


NATS noise at various heights and types departures

NATS table of equivalent noise


More information on noise claims by the A380 and the Boeing 787 here

The type of engine is also important.

Airbus said: “Airbus’ 21st century flagship A380 is the quietest long-haul aircraft flying today, generating 50% less noise on departure than its nearest competitor – all while carrying 40% more passengers.”  Link

And Heathrow said:  “Heathrow has played a key role in enabling local residents to share in the reductions in aircraft noise that the A380 delivers. Following input from key airlines operating at Heathrow, the A380 was specifically designed to meet one of the quietest noise categories. Because airlines value the ability to operate at Heathrow during the day and night, and Heathrow’s standards are directly driving the development of quieter aircraft.

“The A380 generates at least 50 per cent less noise than its nearest competitor at take-off and on landing, the A380 meets the most stringent noise rules at any international airport, namely London’s Heathrow airport – QC2 for departures and QC0.5 for arrivals. This is of major benefit both to A380 operators who have more flexibility to operate night-time flights, and to airports, since passenger capacity will be increased while limiting the impact of noise on the surrounding communities.” Airbus  ”  Link

Also on the Boeing 787


There is much more information on Aviation and Noise at

Details of Noise, flight paths and health publications and links to them

Also briefings at  Noise Briefings 


Details on Airports with Noise and Emissions RestrictionsBoeing data on airports around the world, including most UK commercial airports There is a data sheet for each airport with a lot of detail————————————————————————————DEFRA MapsDEFRA produce rough maps showing the main noise contours around UK airports.  Detailsfor example, the map for London City AirportThey also give estimates of the number of people affected by noise (click on Noise Exposure Charts)

Complaining about noisy and off-track aircraft:

If you have complaints about noise, or of planes away from set flight paths, you can complain to your local airport management (check who is the appropriate manager to write to). 

Send a copy to the DfT:  Aviation Environmental Policy, Department for Transport, Great Minster House, 76 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DR

Please copy your letter to us at AirportWatch, ( or copy your local campaigning organisation.   AirportWatch, 2nd Floor, Broken Wharf House, 2 Broken Wharf, London  EC4V 3DT   
 Stop Stansted Expansion have excellent advice on their website about what to complain about, how to complain, and what happens when you complain.  It is focused on Stansted, but the information is more generally relevant.
 There is also useful advice on how to complain about aircraft noise on the GACC (Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign) website at

Aviation and Climate Change

Atmospheric CO2 data

This shows global CO2 levels, month by month, from Mauna Loa.  Details

Aviation already accounts for about 13% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.  That is about 6.5% of the actual carbon dioxide emitted, though that is somewhat underestimated, as it does not take account of the carbon on return flights to the UK.
 The present rapid growth of air travel, if allowed to continue unchecked, would mean the UK would find it almost impossible to meet its 2050 target for reducing emissions by 80%.
 The aviation industry routinely claims aviation emits about 2% of global carbon emissions. This is not the full story.  As planes fly at altitude, they also cause formation of cirrus cloud in the upper atmosphere, which affects the climate – though the science is complicated and the precise extent of the problem is not known.
The effect of the cirrus cloud, and the NOx and other gases emitted, and their interactions in the atmosphere, means the effect of aviation emissions on the climate are around double those of just the CO2 itself.
A study published in May 2009 showed that global aviation accounts for 3.5% of human climate impact if cirrus cloud is not taken into account. And 4.9% globally if it is included.
Aviation in the EU joined the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in January 2012, so some permits for carbon emissions  need to be paid for, though the price will not initially be high, and the majority of carbon permits will be given to the airlines for free. More detail at  There is information from the European Commission on the ETS at
Aviation emissions will be capped for the year 2012 at 97% of the sector’s emissions over the period 2004-2006 (212 million tonnes of CO2). Between 2013 and 2020, the cap will be set at 95% of aviation’s 2004-6 emissions.
 Air travel is increasing rapidly. Even in the developed countries like the UK, the industry would like to double by perhaps 2030 or 2040. Elsewhere in the newly expanding economies, air travel is growing by 4% or more per year. And the global industry plans to keep to a rate of growth of this order of magnitude.
 To get the liquid fuels the industry will need, as Peak Oil begins to make its mark, the industry is desperately searching  for alternative fuels, from either biofuels or from other sources, such as from coal.  Without these sources it can neither grow at the rate it would like. The industry hopes, unrealistically, that biofuels will enable it to keep its carbon emissions down.
See  Climate Change Briefings & Information for more more detail.
The advice from the Committee on Climate Change, that number of air passengers (= demand) could grow by only 60% of the 2005 level by 2050 is at   Meeting the UK Aviation Target.  Dec 2009


Air Quality at and Around Airports

Air pollution is a major issue for those who live in the vicinity of large airports.  EU legal limits came into place in 2010 but that they are being breached, especially round Heathrow. The Environmental Audit Committee published a pretty damning report earlier in November 2011.  Details.  It may also be that limits are being breached around London City Airport.   

Emissions from aircraft, air-side support vehicles and airport related traffic all contribute to a build up of potentially harmful gases such as oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and ozone. They also produce small particulates.

The most important pollutants are usually nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and small particulates (PM10, PM2.5). These often breach standards set by the UK government and the EU to protect human health.

For detailed information on air quality see Aviation and Air Pollution  and  Briefing on Air Quality around airports
There is a good summary of the UK and EU standards at Air pollution standards summary (doc)  There is also useful information at Air pollution – sources and health effects (doc)
In June 2010 – after the closure of UK airports for 5 days in April 2010, which was an ideal opportunity to assess the impact of the airports when they were functioning – a report was published by researchers at Kings College, London,, showing the effects round Heathrow and Gatwick.  The story, from the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) is at  and the 4 page report is at short report (pdf).
The researchers said:  “This period of unprecedented closure during unexceptional weather conditions has allowed us to demonstrate that the airports have a clear measurable effect on NO2 [nitrogen dioxide] concentrations, and that this effect disappeared entirely during the period of closure, leading to a temporary but significant fall in pollutant concentrations adjacent to the airport perimeters.” We have always been fairly confident that there was this ‘airport effect’ but we have never been able to show it,” Dr Barratt added  ”The closure gave us the opportunity to look at it, and there is a very strong indication that it is the case.”
Useful article from Alan Andrews at Client Earth (environmental lawyers) at

Is air pollution the biggest obstacle to a third runway at Heathrow?  (Sept 2012)

Blight and quality of life

In 2006, when people living near Stansted were deeply worried and nervous about the possibility of a second runway, and the destruction of their community, only one of the problems they faced was blight.  The report below, entitled 

“How and airport can damage a local community” gives a personal perspective.

Stop Stansted Expansion produced a response, presented to Uttlesford District Council in August 2006, about the very severe impacts which the airport’s operations were already having on the community and on the lives of the people who live there, as a result of growth at the airport.  It describes stress, anxiety, noise pollution, light pollution, traffic problems and breakdown in community life.

Erosion of the Community – from the SSE website



Aviation and the economy

“Surely we need flying for the economy?”

 Aviation’s contribution to the economy is less than the aviation industry and the Government suggest
The Government’s estimate of  aviation’s contribution to the economy is based on a report largely paid for by the aviation industry.  The report, The Contribution of Aviation to the UK Economy was carried out by consultants Oxford Economic Forecasting in 1999 with an update in 2006.
• The report ignored the tax-breaks the industry receives through tax-free fuel and being zero-rated for VAT –  worth around £9 billion a year.
• Nor did it factor into its calculations the huge cost aviation imposes on society and the environment, which are estimated to be around £16 billion a year.
• Independent experts argue that the report over-estimates the number of jobs aviation expansion would create.
• And it skated over the point that UK air passengers take more money of the UK on their foreign trips to spend abroad, than foreign visitors bring in on their visits

Tourism Deficit 

There is a “tourism deficit” to the UK economy – estimated at around £ 13 – 20 billion per year over the past decade.  This is the difference in spending (other than on travel tickets*) between money spent by visitors to the UK, and the money spent by Brits travelling abroad.

Every year, a great deal more money is spent by UK residents travelling abroad, than by foreign visitors coming here.

The component of the tourism deficit from trips made by air travel is a large part of it.  For instance, in 2010 the air travel component was £12.4 billion our of a total tourism deficit (including ship and Channel Tunnel) of £14.2 billion.

In 2011, the air travel component was £11.2 billion, out of the total of £13.1 billion.


Below are recent Tourism Deficit figures from the ONS, from their Overseas Travel and Tourism reports.  

2004    £17.2 billion

2005    £ 17.9 billion

2006    £18.41 billion
2007    £19.05 billion
2008    £20.52 billion
2009    £15.10 billion
2010    £14.21 billion  link  (but ONS says £14.9 billion – link  Page 5)
2011    £13.30 billion  link  (but ONS says £13.7 billion  – link  Page 5)
2012    £ 13.80 billion
2013    £13.6 billion ( link )  or £13,89 billion ( link )
2014    £13.7 billion  ( link )
2015    £16.9 billion  ( link )
2016    £21.3 billion  (Link – UK Travel Trends 2016)
2017    £20.3 billion  (Link – UK Travel Trends 2017)
2018    £22.5 billion  (Link – UK Travel Trends 2018)   Corrected to £31.5 billion
2019   £33.9 billion  (Link – UK Travel Trends 2019Using the new methodology.
2020   (Covid) £7.6 billion ( Link  – Overseas Travel and  Tourism 2020)
In 2018 – using the older methodology (so these figures are out of date):
  • UK residents spent £45.4 billion on visits overseas in 2018, which was 1% more than in 2017.
  • Overseas residents spent £22.9 billion on visits to the UK in 2018, a decrease of 7% compared with 2017.
New methodology introduced in 2020, showing the earlier data underestimated the number of UK air passengers, and how much they spent …
The new methodology figure would put the 2018 figure at around £31.5 billion (Not £22.5 bn)

The UK’s travel deficit 2015
UK visits abroadForeign visits to UK
Number of trips65.7m (+ 9.4% v. 2014)36.1m (+5.1%)
Spend (not adjusted for inflation)£39bn (+9.8%)£22.1bn (+1%)
source: ONS

Tourism Deficit due to air travel:
In 2008  about  £17.4 billion
In 2009  about  £13.2 billion
In 2010  about  £12.4 billion.
In 2011  about  £11.2 billion.
? In 2012 around £11.3 billion or more – still to be confirmed (around 85% of approx £13.8 billion)
(Taking the figure in Table 4.1 from the figure in Table 5.1 of the ONS  Travel Trends at Travel Trends 2010  or for other years).
In 2019 the tourism deficit (about 88% of spending by British people abroad on trips taken by air) was around £30.04 billion   (ie.  54,976 minus 24,933) 

Total spending of all trips by UK residents abroad  – £ millions
2019  – £62,325

Spending by UK residents travelling abroad by air
2019  – £54,976 which was 88.21% by air

Spending by Overseas visitors’ trips to the UK in 2019.
£28,228 – by all travel modes
£24,933 – by air     (air is 88%)

Data from Table 3.9 at


 ONS dataONS data for tourism deficit for 2011 2012 2013–2013.html#tab-Data-tables-associated-with-this-report
and up to May 2015 adapted from the ONS table:
Earnings in the UK and expenditure abroad by month
£ million
Overseas residents’Uk residents’
visits to the UKvisits abroad
2012Jan  1,119  1,904– 790
Feb  950  1,853– 900
Mar  1,143  2,151– 1,010
Apr  1,443  2,717– 1,270
May  1,594  2,581– 990
Jun  1,624  3,301– 1,680
Jul  2,055  3,490– 1,440
Aug  2,432  4,416– 1,980
Sep  1,988  3,854– 1,870
Oct  1,524  2,747– 1,220
Nov  1,306  1,816– 510
Dec  1,462  1,620– 160
– £ 13,820
2013Jan  1,245  2,052– 810
Feb  1,046  1,826– 780
Mar  1,300  2,142– 840
Apr  1,677  2,819– 1,140
May  1,723  3,013– 1,290
June  1,894  3,479– 1,590
July  2,550  3,549– 1,000
Aug  2,433  4,970– 2,540
Sep  2,179  3,981– 1,800
Oct  1,967  2,960– 990
Nov  1,520  1,973– 450
Dec  1,725  1,746– 20
– £ 13,250
2014Jan  1,405  2,323– 920
Feb  1,187  2,118– 930
Mar  1,320  2,281– 960
Apr  1,526  2,727– 1,200
May  1,791  3,053– 1,260
June  2,121  3,414– 1,290
July  2,669  3,543– 870
Aug  2,568  4,983– 2,420
Sept  2,178  4,150– 1,970
Oct  1,790  3,248– 1,460
Nov  1,571  2,019– 450
Dec  1,725  1,677  50
– £ 13,680
2015Jan†  1,318  2,322– 1,000
Feb  1,022  2,028– 1,010
Mar  1,376  2,496– 1,120
Apr¹  1,540  2,950– 1,410
May¹  1,930  3,310– 1,380
Latest three months4,8508,760-3,910
% change from year earlier5914
Year to date7,19013,110-5,920
% change from year earlier-1512
Latest 12 months21,81036,140-14,330
% change from year earlier135
Source: International Passenger Survey
                      1          Estimate rounded to nearest 10000
                      †         point of earliest revision due to the most recent quarterly benchmarking.
                      NSA   Not seasonally adjusted

Tourism Deficit in 2012  – £13.8 billion (£13.7 billion in 2011)

The ONS report at   ONS Travel and Tourism December 2012  said:
The deficit to the UK associated with spending on overseas travel and tourism grew from £13.7 billion (2011) to £13.8 billion (2012).
In the text, (Page 5) they say:

During 2012, overseas residents made an estimated 31.1 million visits to the UK, this is 1% higher than in 2011. …. Earnings from visits to the UK in 2012 year to date were £18.7 billion, 4% higher than in 2011.


During 2012 year to date, UK residents made an estimated 56.6 million visits abroad, unchanged from 2011. … UK residents have spent £32.6 billion on visits abroad in 2012, an increase of 3% from 2011.  [Taking £18.7 billion away from £32.6 billion comes to £13.9 billion, so approximately the same as the £13.8 billion].


Tourism Deficit for 2011  – £13.7 billion (£14.9 billion in 2010)

The headline number, i.e. the total tourism deficit in 2011, was £13.1bn or £13.0bn if business travel is excluded. [But the ONS 2012 report  said the 2011 deficit was £13.7 billion].
However, this includes trips by sea/tunnel/road and the amount spent by air travellers alone is not available in the quarterly figures.
You have to wait for the annual ONS publication ‘Travel Trends’, in July each year, for that breakdown.
You can however work out an estimate which should be reasonably accurate by using the average inbound and outbound spend per head figures and then applying a percentage uplift for air travellers, based on the historic pattern ( which is around 85%).
Using that method, an estimate is that the deficit on air travel in 2011  was £11.2bn, compared to £12.4bn in 2010.
The ONS said (July 20011)   “Visits abroad have fallen quite substantially in recent years, particularly for holiday and business purposes. This has resulted in a reduction of the deficit associated with travel, from a peak of over £20 billion in 2008 to £14.2 billion in 2010.”
Overseas Travel and Tourism – Q1 2011 (Pdf 228Kb)
More details at:
Travel Trends – 1999
Travel Trends – 2000
Travel Trends – 2001
Travel Trends – 2002
Travel Trends – 2003
Travel Trends – 2004
Travel Trends – 2005
Travel Trends – 2006
Travel Trends – 2007
Travel Trends – 2008
Travel Trends – 2009
Travel Trends – 2010


 * Earnings and Expenditure   They exclude payments for air, sea and rail travel to and from the UK. For any traveller on an inclusive tour an estimate of the return fare is deducted from the total tour price.
The figures from ‘Travel Trends’ only reflect spending during the trip.  They exclude expenditure on air fares and this gives rise to a further deficit which was £2.2bn in 2008, £2.0bn in 2009 and £2.6 bn in 2010.  These deficits arise from purchases of air tickets from foreign airlines by UK residents (= imports) minus purchases of air tickets from UK airlines by foreign residents (= exports) and can be found in Table 3.2 of the ONS (Office for National Statistics) Pink Book, The Balance of Payments, under air transport services. Combining the two sets of inputs, the 2008 air travel deficit was £19.6bn; 2009 was £15.3bn and 2010 was £15.0bn. 
YearTotal tourism deficit from spending during the trip, by all transport modes  £Tourism deficit from spending during the trip by air passengers  £Tourism deficit from purchase of air ticketsTotal tourism deficit due to air passengers
£ billion
2011 ?             13.1?            11.2
ONS publish 4th quarter travel and tourism data for each year in April (known as the MQ6 data release) and this enables last year’s deficit to be calculated (but ONS usually revise the MQ6 figures slightly when they publish Travel Trends later in the year).
Tourism deficit in the UK in 2004 by region
A group at Luton, LLATVCC, have produced a report (November 2009) showing the economic deficit produced by a net ouflow of finance, due to the excess of outbound cheap flights, over incoming.  This shows that in 2004 (the most recent full data) the East of England region (home to two airports with substantial low-cost flight operations) earned £517 million from overseas visitors, but East of England residents flying abroad spent £2430 million – nearly five times as much, resulting in a deficit to the regional economy of £1913 million in 2004.  All UK regions except London run a substantial economic deficit as a result of aviation-based tourism.  More information and figures at:


Other UK trade deficits
To compare the size of the tourism deficit with other import and export flows in the UK economy, see
This shows the deficits in other sectors are much smaller, with the only sector giving a deficit as large as travel being electronic equipment.


See  “Airport Jobs: false hopes, cruel hoax”  (March 2009)

The aviation industry routinely claims it creates huge numbers of jobs for the UK economy. In practice, most low price airlines make every effort they can to reduce the number of employees (automatic check in, automatic baggage systems etc) and the number of jobs created per extra million passengers is not high, and has reduced over the years.

According to the OEF (Oxford Economic Forecasting – not part of Oxford University) report “The Economic Contribution of the Aviation Industry in the UK” (OEF) published in 2006,  the number of direct jobs in the aviation sector in 2004 was 186,000 (full time equivalents) at a time that there were 215m terminal passengers.

However, the same body (OEF) stated that 180,000 were directly employed by the industry in 1998 in their previous report (1999), a year in which 159m passengers were handled.  From this it would seem that a 34% increase in passengers led to only a 3% increase in jobs. This is not a strong reason to believe that net jobs will increase if aviation expands further.  (Details)

According to the ONS the aviation industry directly provided an average of 120,000 UK jobs in 2009, a third fewer than in 1998 despite a 37% increase in the number of passengers carried.  By comparison – again using the ONS estimate – the UK tourism industry directly supports 1.7m jobs in the UK.   (Details)

Using figures supplied by the Airport Operators Association, OEF found that the aviation industry directly employed 186,000 people (full time equivalents) in 2004.

Despite substantially pruning its labour force, British Airways had 1,157 employees for
every million passengers in the year ended 31 March 2010 whilst Ryanair had just 106
employees per million passengers.

British Airways and Ryanair are of course two very different types of airlines but this is nevertheless an indication of the way the industry has changed. And Ryanair now handles more than twice as many passengers as British Airways.

A report by Oxera, for the Airport Operators Association (AOA) in Nov 2009 said the aviation sector directly provided 141,000 jobs in 2009, and “234,000 if the supplier base is also taken into account.”

The number of terminal passengers at UK airports in 1998 was 158,810,000; 168,288,000 passengers in 1999;   the number in 2004 was 214,926,000; and the number of passengers in 2009 was 218,126,000  (CAA airport data)

Oxera also say  between 1995 – 2008 GVA (gross value added) by the aviation sector grew 8.3% and was was £8.8 billion in 2007.  And that between 1995 – 2008 aviation passengers grew 81% while air freight grew 33%.
However the number of jobs provided over this time seems to have declined, not risen.  There were 180,000 direct aviation  jobs in 1998 and 141,000 in 2009 – a reduction of 27%. During the period of 1998 to 2009 there was a rise in passenger numbers of 37%.  
Aviation jobs do not keep pace with growth  in passenger numbers.
The number of direct aviation staff per million passengers was (back of an envelope maths from the above figures)  1,133 in 1998 [180,000 / 158,818,000] ;  in 2009  it was 646 staff per million passengers.  [ 141,000 / 218,126,000].

Oxera report




 Economic Benefit

Business travel accounts for under a quarter of the UK air travel market and the
business sector is almost in balance. In 2010, foreign businesses made 4.9m business trips to the UK by air (spending £3.6bn) compared to 5.2m overseas business trips by air by UK business (spending £3.8bn).

Leisure travel dominates the UK air travel market with a 77% share. In 2010 overseas
non-business visits by UK residents outnumbered non-business visits to the UK by more
than two to one and the UK incurred a trade deficit of £14.3bn on international air travel. Comprising £0.2bn deficit on business visits, £12.2bn deficit on non-business visits and £1.9bn deficit on purchases of air tickets

Overseas leisure travel has an undoubted social value for UK residents and it benefits
the countries visited by providing them with foreign currency earnings, jobs and investment.
There are however certain adverse economic impacts for the UK, particularly in relation to
UK jobs and investment. More detailed research would be needed in order to reliably
quantify the economic and employment impacts but we can estimate that the employment
impact of the UK deficit on international air travel could be up to 430,000 UK jobs.

The largest air tourism imbalances are in the least affluent regions of the UK, for
example, the North of England has a ratio of 4.7 outward tourists for every overseas visitor.
As a result, these are the areas whose local economies and jobs’ markets would have most to gain if a better balance could be achieved between outward, inward and domestic tourism.

Oxera says the aviation sector is estimated to “directly contribute around £4.8 billion of revenue to the Exchequer in 2007/8

OEF said  that on a conservative estimate, the industry contributed £3.6 billion to the Exchequer in 2004/05.
(Details, from the SSE submission on Aviation, Jobs and the Economy, to the Scoping Document Consultation, Oct 2011)


Air Passenger Duty (APD)

In 2010/11 the exemption from fuel tax and VAT was worth more than £11 billion to the airlines.  After deducting APD revenues, the net benefit is around £9 billion – equivalent to a subsidy to the airlines of about £360 per household.   The 53% of the UK population who do not fly – mainly the less affluent – find themselves subsidising the aviation industry. (Details)

The rates of APD change on 1st April 2012, when the rates rise by around 8% – in line with inflation, taking into account the fact there was no rise in 2011.The tax take is likely to be around £2.5 billion, rather than £2 billion per year after the rise.  That means the net benefit to the industry of its exemption from VAT and fuel duty will be around £8.5 billion, after April 2012.

The Treasury has reiterated that APD is not an environmental tax.  It was instituted in order to – in a small way – compensate for the aviation industry’s non-payment of fuel duty and VAT.


APD  distance bands APD £ per passenger from 1 April 2012 

(old rates from 1.11.2010)   

Miles from UK                       Reduced rate                       Standard rate   *

                                     (in lowest class of travel)     (in other than lowest     .                                                                                           class of travel)

 Band A (0-2000)                        £13    (£12)                        £26 (£24)

Band B (2001-4000)                 £65   (£60)                          £130  (£120)

Band C (4001-6000)                 £81    (£75)                         £162  (£150)

Band D (over 6000)                £92    (£85)                          £184  (£174)

* premium classes, business class, first class etc 


Details on APD compared to the benefits gained by  the aviation industry by not paying fuel duty and VAT:


• Motorists pay 58p a litre duty on their fuel.  Airlines pay nil.
• Motorists pay a further 22p VAT on their fuel.  Airlines pay nil.
• Motorists pay 20% VAT to have their car serviced.  Airlines pay nil.
• Motorists pay 20% VAT to buy their car.  Airlines pay no tax on new aircraft.

So as they pay no duty and no VAT, there is Air Passenger Duty instead.  This tax is charged at only £12 per passenger for any short haul flight (under 2,000 miles) departing from a UK airport.  Not on return trips.  £12 on a holiday trip to anywhere in Europe does not seem a lot.  The price of one or two main course in a restaurant?  or 3 or 4 cups of coffee?

Higher rates of APD apply to longer flights. The APD rates (Nov 2011 – slightly higher from April 2012, see above) are:

Distance to capital city from London Economy/Premium
Band A (less than 2000 m)     £12/£24
Band B (2001m – 4000m)      £60/£120
Band C (4001m – 6000m)     £75/£150
Band D (6001m+)                    £85/£170

The Treasury says: APD is an excise duty which is charged on the carriage, from a UK airport, of chargeable passengers on chargeable aircraft.  Details

Information on APD on Wikipedia, including old rates, at

For more information on economic and employment topics, see
Details of Economics and Employment publications and links to them
and briefings at  Economics & Employment Briefings & Information 



Government Aviation Policy

The 2003 Aviation White Paper was the biggest programme of aviation expansion this country has ever seen
The 2003 Aviation White Paper set out the Government’s aviation policy until 2030.  It expected to see a near trebling in the number of passengers using UK airports.  To cater for this, it argued that the country would require up to 5 new runways, plus “full use” made of the existing runways at virtually the airports in the country.  If this went ahead, it would be the biggest single programme of airport expansion this country has ever seen.  In its ‘Progress Report’ on its White Paper, published in December, the Government confirmed the key policies set out in 2003.
 After the Government decision not to go ahead with a 3rd runway at Heathrow, or a 2nd runway at Stansted (no new runway is permitted legally at Gatwick until 2019) the heart of the 2003 White Paper was removed.  The Coalition Government is adamant that there will be no new runways in the south east. They have also expressly said they are not contemplating a Thames Estuary airport.  They are, however, keen to see aviation growing, within environmental constraints – rather than aviation growth at any cost. And they are keen to see growth at UK regional airports.
 As the 2003 White Paper no longer holds together as a policy, the UK currently has no effective aviation or airports policy.  In some circumstances, councils and airports, and even the Courts, still use the White Paper, in the absence of anything more current.
 There is now a process under way to produce a new UK aviation policy, and a Scoping Document consultation concluded in October 2011.  Details of the consultation are at 
and the consultation document itself is at
Developing a sustainable framework for UK aviation: Scoping document (375 kb)
The Scoping Document framed the debate and asked a series of questions to initiate a dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders on the future direction of aviation policy.
 Then in March 2012 the DfT will consult on their “sustainable aviation framework for UK ” which ends in July 2012.  Then in March 2013 the DfT will adopt its sustainable aviation framework  – which will be the new aviation policy.
 Government policies on climate change and their attitude towards aviation expansion remain contradictory.

UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts  – 2007, 2009 and 2011

The government published forecasts for passenger demand in Nov 2007.  The forecasts were for the UK as a whole and for the big London airports. They revised the previous demand forecasts (published in 2000) and the CO2 forecasts published in 2004.  The figures anticipate passenger numbers in the UK rising from  228 million in 2005, to 270 million  in 2010,  to 325 million in 2015,  480 million  in 2030 and around 580 million in 2050.
 The full document can be seen at:   UK Air Passenger Demand and CO2 Forecasts  (140 pages)
Explanation and comment to understand the forecasts is available on the AEF website at
The AirportWatch Economics group produced a critique of the forecasts.   “Fallible Forecasts” 
The government then produced more Air Passenger Demand and CO2 forecasts in January 2009 which is at
 The DfT Air Passenger Demand and CO2 forecasts (August 2011) are at and the (173 page) forecasts are at   UK aviation forecasts 2011 (PDF – 2000 kB) 
Comparison of the forecast figures between 2011 and 2009 is at Forecasts
 The DfT’s Central estimate (there is also a higher and a lower one) is for 345 million air passengers per year by 2030, compared to 211 million in 2010. (The low estimate for 2030 is 305 million and the high estimate is 400 million).
 The future forecasts are for passenger numbers to grow to between 380 – 515 million by 2050. That is between 1.5 – 2.3% annual growth, which is less than the previous 3.7% expected growth from the Air Transport White Paper of 2003.

UK commitment to not allowing its carbon emissions rise above the level in 2005 by 2050

In the hope of getting the Heathrow 3rd runway through, Geoff Hoon, the then Transport Minister, in January 2009 made undertakings in Parliament that the UK would guarantee that its aviation CO2 emissions were no higher in 2050 than they were in 2005. This is a less strict target that that for the rest of the UK, which has under the Climate Change Act to cut its carbon emissions by 80% on 1990 levels by 2050. 
 It is not yet clear whether this UK target will be upheld by the current government, or whether the level of emissions will be controlled so that in any 5 year period between now and 2050, emissions are never higher than in 2005.  If they are allowed to rise, and then fall back to the necessary level by 2050, that makes a mockery of the target
The DfT made its long awaited response to the Committee on Climate Change, on 25th August 2011.  Details.  It stated that the government has not endorsed the CCC growth target of no increase in aviation emissions over 2005 levels, but have broadly endorsed its approach which it will feed into its developing aviation policy

December 2009 – Committee on Climate Change Report

In December 2009, the Committee on Climate Change produced its report on how future aviation growth could be made to fit within UK climate targets. This report was called Meeting the UK aviation target – options for reducing emissions to 2050.”  Committee on Climate Change December 2009
and is at
 Among other things, it said that with a 0.8% per annum improvement in fleet fuel efficiency and 10% take-up of aviation biofuels by 2050, this would allow a 60% increase in passenger numbers by 2050 while still keeping within the climate target.  However, most other sectors of the economy will need to reduce their greenhouse gases by 90% compared with 1990 levels to make up for the less stringent target applied to aviation.  AEF produced a report on the December 2009 CCC report, which is at
 The Department for Transport made its reponse to the CCC report in August 2011 – delayed several months.  However, as the consultation on the aviation Scoping Document was currently underway, it was unclear how definitive the DfT response could be. 
The  DfT response as well as an assessment of the relative cost-effectiveness and
abatement potential of different measures for reducing UK aviation CO2 emissions
out to 2050, can be found at
Future aviation policy will need to be in line with the requirements of the carbon targets.


VAT and Fuel Duty – neither is charged on air travel

“Aviation is actually subsidised in this country to the tune of £10 billion every single year, because aviation doesn’t pay tax on fuel for example, it doesn’t pay VAT on its tickets.”

Caroline Lucas, Question Time, 19 January 2012


Full Fact said:

“Jan 2012:  On Question Time Green Party Leader Caroline Lucas alleged that the aviation industry in the UK is being subsidised in the form of fuel tax and VAT exemptions by some £10 billion. What is the evidence for this figure?


The claim appears in a Green Party report and briefing in 2003. Both documents cite a 2003 report entitled “The Hidden Cost of Flying” by Brendon Sewill, an environmental campaigner.

In the report, Mr Sewill calculates that implementing fuel tax at the same rate as private fuel tax would cost the aviation industry £5.7 billion, adding VAT to the cost of tickets would add £4.0 billion to the cost, and the abolition of duty free would cost £0.4 billion. Deducting the contribution that air passenger duty (APD, worth £0.9 billion, which would no longer be necessary) makes to the Treasury, he calculates that the eocnomy could potentially be missing out on a contribution of £9.2 billion per year.

In a later report in 2005, Mr Sewill notes that the 2003 Volterra report for BAAappeared to confirm his calculations. Volterra’s calculations appear below:

Since both reports were produced, the aviation industry has expanded significantly and VAT has risen to 20 per cent. Both could have had an impact upon the figures.

However, Volterra calculates the average cost of a ticket to be £136, with 182 million passengers according to the Civil Aviation Authority. At a VAT rate of 20 per cent added to the cost of the ticket and assuming the same number of passengers, this would raise £4.95 billion. Added to the older figure for fuel tax, this amounts to a tax exemption of £10.65 billion.

It is worth noting however that these analyses assume that the addition of new taxes to airline tickets would not have an impact upon the demand to fly. Whether or not this is the case in reality might depend upon the extent to which airlines passed on these new costs to the customers, however theInstitute for Fiscal Studies has noted in the past that changes to VAT do have an impact upon levels of cunsumer demand.


When we got in touch with Caroline Lucas’s office we were told that the £10 billion figure was a “Government figure” – although the link they provided us with was to a letter in the Guardian. This stated:

“The Treasury in 2008 estimated part of this tax subsidy received by aviation: “Were the UK to charge a fuel duty and VAT on tickets, this could result in revenues of around £10 bn [per year].””

However that the figure has been used by government is seemingly confirmed by a Department for Transport response to the 2007 consultation on the Aviation Emissions Cost Assessment.

The value of this estimate was however questioned by the Transport Committee in 2010, who noted that:

“it ought be relatively straightforward to provide a factual account. We asked for this, but did not receive one. It would be helpful if the Government clarified this issue with a statement of the revenues raised, the extent of any tax exemptions and how these compare to the social and environmental costs of aviation. As part of this clarification, the Government needs to explain the basis for its earlier statement that an additional £10 billion might be raised if VAT and fuel duty were applied to aviation.”

The Transport Committee report also highlights some difficulties associated with describing these examptions as subsidies (and indeed it notes that, unlike rail and bus travel, “airports and airlines receive virtually no subsidy.”). In fact these perks are better described as tax breaks (i.e. money that isn’t collected by HMRC, rather than public funds made available to the industry).

To complicate matters further, there are a number of historical and legal precedents for the aviation industry’s tax exemptions. For example, the 1947Convention on International Civil Aviation specifies that aeroplanes should be exempt from fuel duties, while in the UK all forms of passenger transport arezero-rated for VAT.


So while the £10 billion figure has been widely used – both in government and by others – to describe the savings that the aviation industry enjoys as a result of its VAT and fuel duty exemption, questions have been raised about the details.

Government itself hasn’t provided the specifics behind itsz use of the estimate, while the breakdowns we have seen from Volterra and Brendon Sewill are now slightly dated.


Update: 26 January 2012

Brendon Sewill has been in touch with us to point out that the Treasury responded to the Select Committee’s request for more information. According to their response, the figure of £10 billion is rounded and calculated from a 2008 Office for National Statistics figure on the amount spent on air travel (£13 billion), combined with Department of Energy and Climate Change figures on air fuel consumption (16 billion litres of fuel). They give rounded figures for the potential tax of £2 billion (VAT) and £8.5 billion (fuel duty) respectively.

Full Fact has found updated DECC figures for fuel usage which state that during 2010, 11.2 million tonnes of fuel were used in the aviation industry. Jet A fuel has a density of roughly 0.82kg/l, suggesting that 13.62 billion litres were used. The figure is likely to be lower than in 2008 due to the effects of the economic downturn and improvements in aircraft efficiency. If fuel duty were applied in the same way as for unleaded petrol (currently 0.5795 £/litre, although due to be raised to 0.6097 £/litre in August) this would raise £7.89 billion.

The ONS has also released updated figures for consumer spending, showing that in 2010 £12.4 billion was spent on air travel. Applying the current VAT rate of 20 per cent, this would raise £2.48 billion. Added together, if VAT and fuel duty were applied to the aviation industry, this would raise £10.37 billion.

Further data for the financial year 2010/11 shows that £2.16 billion was raised by Air Passenger Duty, resulting in a net figure of £8.21 billion.”

More up to date figures on the amount raised by APD here.



Carbon offsetting for your flight – does it work?

AirportWatch is not convinced that offsetting schemes are effective.   With more people buying carbon offsets to try and compensate for the carbon dioxide produced from their flights, the effectiveness and justification for these offsets is increasingly being questioned.  The Observer article discusses the problems.The Observer – Carbon offsetting Ripoff? 

An article in the Sunday Times reveals that offsetting schemes involving tree planting can take a century to remove the CO2 from the atmosphere, making them very ineffective as a meals of reducing the climate changing effect of emissions.  Offsetting your carbon footprint takes decades  

 Also see more on offsetting under Miscellaneous And Older Briefings


If you can’t make your mind up about offsetting, have a look at the Cheatneutral website.   As it helpfully says: “What is Cheat Offsetting?
When you cheat on your partner you add to the heartbreak, pain and jealousy in the atmosphere. 
Cheatneutral offsets your cheating by funding someone else to be faithful and NOT cheat. This neutralises the pain and unhappy emotion and leaves you with a clear conscience.”

And there is a jolly film for you to enjoy ……….. sit back and have a laugh 

The aviation industry’s advertising ………..

The industry is very good at telling part of the truth, and using adverts to put their message across. There are the BAA adverts showing maps of the world covered in the words Opportunities and Customers emblazoned across the whole world, showing Customers in large letters across Siberia and the Sahara.  And many more.  The airports are working hard to cut their ground emissions, installing wind turbines, recycing paper, cutting down on energy used for lighting etc. All very laudable and excellent. But at the same time aiming to increase flights by as much as possible, negating the savings made. So …sadly … greenwash.  The ads by IATA below take some beating though.

IATA – mastery of greenwash – The IATA adverts

IATA  (the International Air Transport Association) has produced a series of adverts, which appear in in-flight magazines and in other media.  The aim is to tell people how green flying is, how the aviation industry is trying very hard to reduce emissions, and how flying really is wonderful.   Their solutions to the carbon emissions problem range from reducing the number of ice cubes on board planes, blaming cows, flying in straight lines, to keeping the planes clean.

Quite an eye-opener………..  enjoy them for yourself at 
The IATA adverts text

“But people love air travel, and we don’t want to stop the poor from flying !”

Surveys show most  people would be prepared to pay more to fly for the sake of the environment

• Most cheap flights are actually taken by the better off – and they are not likely to be the ones who live under flight paths and near the busy feeder roads.

• ‘Choice’ can be deceptive. Often the real reason for ‘choosing’ the plane is because ‘everyone else does’, or because we’re unaware of alternatives.

• It would be physically impossible for the whole world to fly as much as the UK currently does. Yet climate change will hurt the part of the world whose people fly the least. There is a real question of justice here.


“Love Miles”

For some thought-provoking opinions on “love miles” (the air journeys taken to visit friends or relatives abroad) see Tahmina Anam’s piece in Guardian Comment – and the many, many comments it generated.

“I’m trying hard to be eco-friendly.  But please don’t ask me to give up flying to visit my family”

24th April 2008.     Tahmina Anam, a Pakistani living in Britain, says “there is no other way to live apart, no other way to make it OK that our lives happen in each other’s absence, than to allow ourselves the promise of regular visits.” (Guardian Comment)  



Watch the YouTube video of air traffic over Europe

 loads slowly!



Watch the YouTube video of global air traffic



Flightmapping – shows which airports fly to which countries



Consultation by DfT on the Aviation Scoping Document

Closed 20th October 2011.  This is the first part of a consultation exercise to produce a new UK aviation policy, to be published in March 2013, after a second consultation in 2012.  The Scoping Document consultation was a general one, to frame the future policy.  Its questions are quite vague. It also asks responses to be evidence-based. AirportWatch therefore produced a range of supporting documents.  These can be seen at Scoping Documents – evidence papers  The responses from AirportWatch, and many other organisations are also available on that page.
The Aviation Scoping Document consultation document is at