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Air transport workers see biggest fall in wages of any UK sector since 2008 financial crisis

Average weekly real pay across the sector has fallen by a third in the last 15 years

Air transport workers have seen the biggest real wage decline of any UK sector since the financial crisis, according to a report from the New Economics Foundation (NEF), published today.

With strikes over pay planned at Glasgow, Birmingham and other airports, the report finds that median gross weekly pay in the air transport sector fell from £844 in 2008 to £574 in 2022. This is a decline of £270 a week, or 32%: the largest drop out of all 90 sub-sectors of the UK economy.

The report also shows that pay cuts in the air transport sector were only experienced by low and mid-level workers. Workers earning in the bottom 20% of salaries saw their wages decline by 30% on average, while the top 10% of earners in the sector were estimated to have seen little change in their pay over the same period (2008 – 2022), after accounting for inflation.

Major expansion plans have recently been announced at Luton and Gatwick airports, and expansions are already approved at Bristol, Southampton, Manston, and Stansted. But the report casts doubt on aviation industry and government claims that more air travel will boost the UK economy.

The report finds:

  • No strong evidence that increase in UK air travel results in increase in productivity or GDP growth.
  • Despite huge growth in passenger numbers 2015 – 2019, the proportion of passengers flying for business in 2022 was half what it was in 2013.
  • Number of air transport jobs is lower today than in 2007, and the sector has some of the lowest job and value (gross value added) creation potential in the UK.
  • Air transport real wages have seen biggest post-financial crisis decline of any sector in the country.
  • £32bn (net) left the UK in 2019 through more UK tourists travelling abroad than foreign tourists visiting.

The report recommends that the government pause all growth in air travel, including airport expansions, until it has conducted a comprehensive, independent review of the economic evidence of expanding the UK’s air travel sector, and the compatibility of air transport growth with policies on climate change, levelling-up, and domestic tourism.

Dr Alex Chapman, senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation (NEF), said:

For years, this government has let the air travel industry balloon in size, based on dangerously outdated claims that it is boosting the UK’s economy. But the reality for most people working in air transport is very different – they’ve suffered huge real terms pay cuts. So who exactly is benefitting from ever more air travel? You needn’t look much further than the highly paid executives, the private shareholders, and the wealthy minority of ultra-frequent flyers.”


The New Economics Foundation is a charitable think tank who are wholly independent of political parties and committed to being transparent about how it is funded.

The report, Losing Altitude, will be available at on the New Economics Foundation website.

The report was peer-reviewed by leading UK transport economics expert John Siraut, Chair of the Transport Economics Committee of the European Transport Conference.

The report analyses secondary data gathered exclusively from official government sources, the Office for National Statistics, and the Civil Aviation Authority. Pay data derives from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), available at: https://​www​.ons​.gov​.uk/​e​m​p​l​o​y​m​e​n​t​a​n​d​l​a​b​o​u​r​m​a​r​k​e​t​/​p​e​o​p​l​e​i​n​w​o​r​k​/​e​a​r​n​i​n​g​s​a​n​d​w​o​r​k​i​n​g​h​o​u​r​s​/​d​a​t​a​s​e​t​s​/​i​n​d​u​s​t​r​y​4​d​i​g​i​t​s​i​c​2​0​0​7​a​s​h​e​t​a​ble16

Key trends in air travel are shown in Figures 1 and 2.

Information on the Luton Airport expansion can be found at: https://​www​.bbc​.co​.uk/​n​e​w​s​/​u​k​-​e​n​g​l​a​n​d​-​b​e​d​s​-​b​u​c​k​s​-​h​e​r​t​s​-​6​4​8​01427

The recent Bain & Co. consultancy report on air travel emissions can be found at: https://​www​.bain​.com/​a​b​o​u​t​/​m​e​d​i​a​-​c​e​n​t​e​r​/​p​r​e​s​s​-​r​e​l​e​a​s​e​s​/​2​0​2​3​/​a​i​r​l​i​n​e​s​-​c​a​n​-​e​l​i​m​i​n​a​t​e​-​u​p​-​t​o​-​7​0​-​o​f​-​e​m​i​s​s​i​o​n​s​-​b​y​-​2​0​5​0​-​b​u​t​-​m​a​n​y​-​w​i​l​l​-​m​i​s​s​-​t​h​e​i​r​-​n​e​t​-​z​e​r​o​-​g​o​a​l​s​-​i​f​-​a​i​r​-​t​r​a​f​f​i​c​-​c​o​n​t​i​n​u​e​s​-​t​o​-​g​r​o​w​-​f​a​s​t​e​r​-​t​h​a​n​-gdp/

Figure 1: Air passenger numbers in the UK, their trend, and change compared with 2006, including 2030 and 2050 forecast passenger numbers in the 2022 Jet Zero Strategy. Business passenger data is not available from 2020.

Source: NEF analysis of ONS Travelpac

Figure 2: Percentage change in real gross weekly pay over time versus 2006 among low-paid (20th percentile) and high-paid (80th percentile) workers in air transport (sic code 51), and in the whole economy, with linear trendlines shown

Source: ASHE

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