The proportion of UK adults who believe air travel damages the environment has fallen according to latest research by the Department for Transport (DfT), but remains close to two-thirds.


A DfT survey of more than 1,000 adults found 62% agreed that “air travel harms the environment”, down from 66% in 2008 and 70% in 2006.


Much of the fall appears due to a change in attitude among older adults. The proportion agreeing remained at 71% among 16-34 year olds, but fell from 68% to 55% among those aged 55-64 and from 69% to 53% among 65-74 year olds.


The findings will please the aviation industry, but concern environmentalists. There was no clear correlation between opinions and the frequency of flying.


The proportion agreeing people should be able to fly as much as they want “even if this harms the environment” appears to have grown over the period from 17% in 2006 to 29% in the latest survey.


Airlines and industry groups have previously expressed concern that the industry was making little headway in defending itself against charges of contributing to global warming.


The decline may reflect a wider fall in concern about climate change – suggested by several polls – following a concerted challenge by groups sceptical about global warming and the controversy over alleged suppression of conflicting data. However, latest reports from the UK Meteorological Office, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the US National Climatic Data Centre suggest global temperatures in the first half of 2010 were the highest on record.


The DfT survey found a majority of those concerned about the environmental impact of flying believe fares should rise to reflect this, with 60% saying they would pay extra and 45% prepared to pay 20% more.


Older people appear more likely than the young to agree with an increase in fares to reflect environmental costs – 70% of those over 55 doing so against 49% of 16-34 year olds. The better off were also more likely to agree – 73% of adults earning £26,000 or more a year doing so. However, 57% of those earning less than £13,520 a year also agreed.


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