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People Issues

Project title:

People Issues: Incorporating Passenger Expectation and Airline Business Models Workshop

Principal investigators:

Dr Paul Hooper, Ms. Holly Preston, Ms. Rebecca Wiles, Prof Callum Thomas


Omega: Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)


2008 – 2009



The environmental impact of flying has become a high profile issue gaining increasing news coverage: there are indications that environmental concerns are beginning to affect customer choice and behaviours.

Improved environmental performance has become a marketing issue as well as a goal in its own right. Understanding how the public percieves the environment as a factor affecting travel choice is fundamental to delivering performance improvement. Responding to changing market demand is becoming critical for the aviation industry.



This study investigates the status quo on the nature and extent of the public’s regard for environmental issues and how perceptions affect customer choiceover air transport options.

It provides a platform for identifying ways to improve knowledge and should secure productive public engagement in the aviation sustainability debate. The study aims to identify the level of knowledge of the environmental effects of aviation and how this influences passenger demand and choice. This in turn should inform an investigation of the willingness to pay higher prices for aviation and/or forego ‘peripherial’ services. It will also contribute to the development of future business models designed to meet customer expectations in an environmentally sensitive world.



This study will clarify attitudal change in response to climate change, the desire to continue to make use of aviation and willingness to sacrifice convenience and service to enjoy the ability to fly.

Surveying passenger understanding of aviation and climate change and attitudes towards the servies provided by airlines, the price of air travel, and so on will enable data of significant acedemic value to be collected. This will inform our understanding of changing societal expectation in response to aviation and changing climate. It will also inform the industry debate regarding potential business responses to climate change.



The review of passenger attitude surveys revealed a very mixed picture; with air passengers clearly concerned about climate change and aware of the contribution made by flying (at least in terms of the causal link if not the full scale of the contribution). However, passengers generally look to other parties to solve the problem (e.g. government, airlines), rather than to changes in their own behaviour to address the issues of climate change. Thus, there is a reluctance to reduce flying, especially for leisure, and a belief that others can solve the problem by making the service more efficient. There is even willingness among some passengers to pay more for more environmentally-friendly services and/or to mitigate the consequences of flying through offsetting. What is unclear is whether this willingness to pay extends to forgoing traditional service elements to enhance environemental performance.

The core conclusions that memerge from this project are:

  • airlines will continue to pursue incremental changes to service delivery where the benefits are evident (e.g. in fuel savings and GHG emissions reductions) and not seen to conflict with passenger expectations of service.
  • More rigorous monitoring of resource and service use in some areas could assist in tailoring supply to passenger demand on specific routes (e.g. water and duty free). The potential to reduce water carriage in this way is thought to be quite considerable.
  • Raising awareness among pilots of the financial and environmental consequences of fuel contingency exceedances could yield significant benefits whilst not compromising legitimate pilot concerns for safety.
  • In some areas opportunities to reduce wight have reached the limit allowed by regulation (especially among LCCs), for example, air crew numbers and seating space allowances.
  • Passengers need to ne informed as to the relative impact of flying compared to other GHG generating activities and to the significance of specific changes in service delivery if more radical changes to improve efficiencies are to be considered by airlines (e.g. use of slower aircraft, optimised stage lengths, reduced frequency of services to enhance load factors).
  • Passenger surveys suggest there is little appetite for behavioural changes that could reduce demand for air services such as willingness to take fewer longer overseas holidays or to holiday in the UK