Pressure to reduce aviation’s climate impact has increased, says NATS research

NATS’ Aviation Index 2020 survey found that 70 per cent of people are now demanding that climate change action be the aviation industry’s top priority.

Pressure to reduce aviation's climate impact has increased

Public pressure to reduce aviation’s impact on the environment has seen a substantial increase over the past year, according to new research commissioned by NATS, the UK air navigation service provider (ANSP).

The Aviation Index 2020 – NATS’ annual survey of passenger opinions and attitudes – reveals a major strengthening of opinion, with 70 per cent of people now demanding that climate change action be the industry’s top priority, an 18 percentage point rise in just two years.

There is also evidence of a growing belief that this can only be achieved at the expense of passenger choice. The Aviation Index has recorded a significant rise in the proportion who believe that people should be discouraged from flying due to its environmental impact, rising to 32 per cent from 22 per cent in 2019. Similarly, the surge in public feeling comes alongside a decline in backing for airport expansion, with only 39 per cent now voicing support, down from 57 per cent in 2019. 

Head of Sustainable Operations at NATS, Ian Jopson, said: “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. 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 has enabled carbon savings of 10.1 million tonnes since 2008 by reducing airborne holding and offering airlines more direct routes and smoother climbs and descents, but much more work needs to be done. The industry knows this; even before the pandemic hit, Sustainable Aviation announced its decarbonisation roadmap, committing the UK industry to net zero emissions by 2050. 

With traffic levels at record lows as a result of the pandemic, there is a historic opportunity to look at how the airspace in the UK – something that was originally designed in the 1950s and 60s – can be redesigned to take advantage of the navigation capabilities of modern aircraft and dramatically cut emissions and fuel burn. 

Jopson continues: “Navigating the COVID-19 crisis is an enormous challenge for our industry right now, but we cannot afford to ignore climate change. In fact, it may be an opportunity to put in place lasting benefits so that 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.” 

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