Climate Action

Demand for business flights falls almost a third as economy moves away from corporate air travel

Analysis of latest data casts further doubt over air industry’s claim that more flying boosts the economy

  • 20 May 2024
  • Press Release

Analysis of latest data casts further doubt over air industry’s claim that more flying boosts the economy. Flights for business purposes fell by 29% in 2023, compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, with 3.9 million fewer trips made, the New Economics Foundation (NEF) has found.

Analysis of the latest data from the Office for National Statistics shows that businesses spent £2.9 billion less (-22%) on air travel in 2023 compared with 2019 (in 2023 prices), despite real GDP growth of 1.8%, undermining the aviation industry’s claims that increasing the number of flights will drive economic growth.

These claims have been promoted recently by airports seeking to expand their capacity including at Luton, Gatwick, and London City Airports.

The new data represents further evidence of a trend of ​“decoupling” of business air travel and the economy.

Research published by NEF last year showed that business use of air travel had collapsed in the last decade. Despite huge growth in passenger numbers between 2015 and 2019, the market-share of business passengers in 2022 was half of what it was in 2013. Meanwhile, the research found that growth in leisure air travel had little wider economic benefit.

Alex Chapman, senior economist at the New Economics Foundation, said:

“The aviation industry can see what is happening here, with concern about their impact on the climate growing, they are trying hard to convince people that more air travel is essential to economic growth. But their analysis is out-of-date.

“The next UK government should take a fresh look at its approach to travel and tourism, and focus on re-invigorating the UK’s neglected domestic tourism economy and coastal areas and the zero-carbon public transport network which will support them.”

While the move away from air travel for business purposes has in part been driven by environmental concerns, NEF has argued that stronger government action is required to reduce aviation’s emissions. Polling shows that 47% of the public see a frequent flyer levy as ​“fair or somewhat fair” as opposed to just 20% who saw it as unfair.

However, business travellers, who are among the most frequent flyers, are more likely to see the policy as fair, with 52% seeing it as ​“very or somewhat fair” compared with 22% who saw it as ​“very or somewhat unfair”.

Find out more here.