21st December 2005

Poor stay grounded as rich fly high

New figures from the Civil Aviation Authority show that the soaring demand for air travel is being driven by high fliers earning over £50,0000 a year taking more and more cheap leisure flights and not, as the Government claims, to meet the demands of UK business, or because flying has become more affordable for the less well off.

Passengers using Stansted Airport, the main UK airport for cheap flights, had an average income of £51,074 in 2004, up from £47,223 in 2003. Average earnings for passengers at Gatwick (£51,083) and Luton (£50,857) airports were similar to Stansted whilst Heathrow topped the league with average earnings of £66,752.

These latest CAA figures, from its 2004 Passenger Survey Report, totally undermine Government claims that its policy of building more runways and promoting a massive expansion of air travel is to meet the needs of UK business and to create more opportunities for poor people to fly.

Five out of six passengers using Stansted Airport in 2004 were travelling for leisure purposes, including visiting second homes abroad, whilst only one in six were travelling on business.

Ryanair, which accounts for 62% of Stansted’s passengers, has an average fare of just £28 but a weekend break overseas is still unlikely to leave much change out of £500 by the time that hotel bills, meals and other costs have been paid. This is the most likely reason why the poor remain grounded whilst the better off are taking more and more cheap flights.

The CAA figures also show that, at Stansted, the main UK airport for cheap flights, 83% of passengers are ABC1s, the wealthiest members of the population. Only 7% of Stansted passengers are from social groups D and E, the least affluent 27% of the population.

Commenting on the figures, Stop Stansted Expansion Economics Adviser Brian Ross said: “These latest CAA figures help explain why the UK balance of payments deficit on tourism has soared from £4.7bn in 1997 to £17.6bn last year, sucking money out of the UK economy. The environment is also suffering from the explosive growth in cheap flights with aviation emissions now the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Mr Ross continued: “The CAA figures also destroy the myth that the Government is encouraging the boom in air travel to meet the demand from business users and to benefit the less affluent.”

Mr Ross concluded: “Sooner or later the Government must come to its senses and stop showering this industry with countless tax breaks, exemptions and subsidies and stop trying to concrete over our countryside to accommodate it.”


A spreadsheet summarising the data on average incomes and socio-economic groups from the CAA 2004 Passenger Survey is available [from SSE on request (weblink lapsed)]

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits