A minority of the UK population regularly use airports and the proportion has remained unchanged throughout the economic cycle, according to a study by the Department for Transport (DfT).

More than half the adults surveyed (53%) had not flown in the previous 12 months and a further 20% made no more than one return trip, with 11% making two.
Just 16% made three or more flights in the previous year – a similar proportion to that identified by surveys in 2006 and 2008.

Of those who had flown, 37% made at least one short-haul trip, 18% a long-haul flight and 8% had flown domestically.

The findings contradict aviation industry claims that the rapid growth in air travel and, in particular, of low-cost carriers has “democratised” air travel by extending it across the population.

In fact, the latest survey shows a small increase in the proportion taking no flights – up from 50% in 2008 to 53% this year – and a corresponding decline from 23% to 20% in those making a single flight.

The Dft notes: “These changes were not statistically significant, but correspond to the fall in overall air passenger numbers in 2009.”

The survey confirms that the frequency of flying rises with income. More than two-thirds of respondents earning £26,000 or more made at least one flight.

Those living in London or the South East were also more likely to fly – with 55% of respondents in this area making at least one flight against 44% in the rest of the country, and 23% making three or more compared with 13% elsewhere.

The survey of more than 1,000 UK adults was conducted in February and published last week.