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In the 2021 Autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced a cut in Air Passenger Duty for domestic flights in the UK. This was welcomed by UK airports as a boost to domestic connectivity, but criticised by environmental groups for sending the wrong message about carbon-intensive flying.
But how many domestic flights do we take in the UK, and where to? This Insight looks at statistics and maps based on data published by the Civil Aviation Authority.
How many people flew?
Three million passengers travelled on scheduled domestic flights in the UK between July and September 2021. The most popular route was between Heathrow and Edinburgh, followed by Heathrow to Glasgow.
The map below shows all routes carrying over 100 passengers over this period, with the most-travelled routes shown in the chart on the left.
The numbers here count passengers in both directions (eg from Belfast to Gatwick as well as Gatwick to Belfast). The routes might not reflect a passenger’s whole journey: for example, a passenger could fly from Edinburgh to Heathrow, then connect at Heathrow to a second flight heading outside the UK, but they would still be counted in the number of people flying from Edinburgh to Heathrow.
There are 182 routes shown on this map, so it’s hard to isolate them all, but simpler versions focusing on particular areas follow below.
Around 37% of passengers on domestic flights in the UK were flying to or from Northern Ireland. 39% were flying from the Scottish mainland to or from elsewhere on mainland Great Britain, while 3% were flying to or from the Scottish Islands. 13% were flying to or from the Channel Islands, and only 6% took a flight that both started and finished in mainland England (excluding the Isles of Scilly).
53% of domestic passengers were flying either to or from a London airport.
Belfast International had the most passengers arriving or departing on domestic flights of any UK airport between July and September, with Heathrow and Edinburgh second and third respectively.
Trends during Covid-19
The data covered here looks at flights between July and September2021. The air industry is still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. In June 2021, the number of domestic passengers was 67% lower than it had been two years ago. Passenger numbers grew by September 2021 but remained 44% lower than in September 2019.
Passenger numbers on some types of flights have recovered more than others. Domestic passengers to/from Northern Ireland were 31% lower in September 2021 than in September 2019, compared with 32% lower for Scottish Island flights, and 36% lower for the Channel Islands. But mainland flights have recovered less. Domestic passengers from Scotland to mainland GB were still 49% lower in September 2021 compared with September 2019, and domestic passengers within England were 62% lower.
The maps below show domestic passengers flying to and from the Channel Islands and the Scottish Islands during July and August 2021. 43% of passengers on Channel Island flights were going to or from a London airport, but there were 27 routes to elsewhere in the UK.
38% of passengers on Scottish island flights were travelling to or from Glasgow, 23% to or from Aberdeen, and 15% to or from Edinburgh.
The map on the left below shows domestic flights to and from Northern Ireland between July and September 2021.
Almost all flights were to or from one of Belfast’s two airports, with a small proportion (1%) of passengers travelling direct from City of Derry Airport to the British mainland. 40% of passengers were travelling to or from London, 21% to or from Liverpool or Manchester, and 15% were travelling to or from Scotland.
Flights within mainland England
6.4% of people on domestic flights travelled within mainland England. The map on the right above shows these routes. 59% of those travelling within mainland England were going to or from London, and the most popular routes were from Heathrow to Manchester and Heathrow to Newcastle. The most-travelled route outside London was from Bristol to Newcastle.
24% of passengers travelling within mainland England were going to or from Newquay. This data was for July to September 2021, overlapping the summer holidays, so this percentage may be lower at other times of year. A recently announced route between Newquay and Gatwick supported by the Government, may mean overall flights to and from Newquay increase in coming years.
Average distances and shorter flights
The average distance of a domestic flight within the UK is 277 miles. Restricting to mainland flights only – excluding flights to and from Northern Ireland, Scottish Islands and the Channel Islands – the average is 326 miles. For routes within mainland England, the average is 215 miles.
The table below shows the ten shortest mainland flights that had over 8,000 passengers between July and September 2021. Two of these routes can be taken by rail journeys that take under three hours from city to city: London to Manchester and London to Newcastle. All the routes would take over four hours to drive in typical conditions.
Shorter domestic flights on the British mainland
|Airport 1||Airport 2||Air passengers
The Government’s Jet Zero (2.7MB, PDF) consultation discusses plans for domestic flights, such as a target for UK domestic aviation to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040. This includes looking at whether it is feasible to use sustainable aviation fuels on protected routes (‘Public Service Obligation’ routes). See our briefing paper Aviation, decarbonisation and climate change for more.
About the author: Carl Baker is a statistician at the House of Commons Library, specialising in geography and health statistics.
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