There might be one piece of good news coming out of the pandemic after all. Business travelers across Europe are planning to take fewer flights thanks to broader use of video conferencing, a new survey showed. This could help lower greenhouse gas emissions coming from the transportation sector.
Aviation is one of the most energy-intense forms of transport and it has been characterized by strong growth year after year. It currently accounts for 2% of the global emissions, and the figure is expected to increase significantly. Estimates before COVID-19 have suggested a further tripling between 2020 and 2050.
A study last year showed that an elite of wealthy frequent flyers — representing only 1% of the world’s population — generates more than half of the total aviation emissions. The study found that 11% of the world’s population traveled by air in 2018, with 4% of people traveling abroad. Passengers from the US flew the most by distance.
But flying, especially to foreign destinations, suffered a big blow because of the pandemic. Holiday goers and executives were forced to change their plans due to the spread of the virus, with many big conferences being canceled or rescheduled in 2020 and 2021. The trend is set to continue, according to a recent survey in Europe
Commissioned by the European Climate Foundation, YouGov surveyed 1,414 business travelers in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark in December 2020 and January 2021. Up to 42% of those surveyed said they will fly less often even after the COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted.
Most respondents found the shutdown of air travel made little to no impact on their work lives, with videoconferencing replacing the need to travel. A minority (5%) said they aren’t planning to take any business-related flights at all after restrictions ease. It might seem like a small change but it could be the start of something bigger.
A spokesman for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents the world’s airlines, told The Guardian that it was difficult to assess future demand while most borders remained in effect closed, and with no clear timetable for reopening.
Still, the survey is in line with Bill Gates’ prediction that business air travel will slump in the post-pandemic era. The Microsoft co-founder said last year that over 50% of business travel will go away in the pandemic’s aftermath. There will be a “very high threshold” for conducting business trips, he added, speaking at a conference.
There was a “dramatic” fall in international air travel due to COVID-19 in 2020, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization. Seating capacity fell by around 50%, leaving just 1.8 billion passengers taking flights through the year, compared with around 4.5 billion in 2019. That adds up to a staggering financial loss to the industry, of around $370 billion.