Business flights fall by nearly a third since 2019

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that flying for business purposes has fallen dramatically. The number of business flights fell by 29% in 2023, compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019, with 3.9 million fewer trips made and £2.9 billion less spent by businesses. 

So is aviation really that important for the economy?

Airports frequently claim that they play a key role in economic growth. This argument is used to persuade decision makers to allow airport expansions across the country.

However, analysis by the New Economics Federation (NEF) has revealed that real GDP grew by 1.8% over the same period that business flying fell by 29%. This fits with previous NEF research which found that the market-share of business passengers in 2022 was half of what it was in 2013.

Alex Chapman, senior economist at NEF, said: “There’s a trend of ​’decoupling’ business air travel from the economy. Business flights peaked in 2007 and have fallen further since the pandemic. Today, aviation growth causes major damage to our climate while benefiting only a tiny group of airport owners and wealthy frequent flyers.” 

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

These new figures from the ONS put a big question mark over the aviation industry’s claims about the importance of business flights.