Birmingham International Airport has poured cold water on claims that demand for business air travel is set to plummet.
According to research by conservationist organisation WWF-UK, nine out of ten top UK companies hope to cut the amount of business flights they take over the next decade.
The study for WWF-UK claims that almost two-thirds of Britain’s biggest businesses are already reducing their business travel carbon footprint, while a further quarter aimed to do so.
Of the 100 FTSE 350 firms, including RBS, Cadbury and Glaxo Smithkline, which were surveyed by market researchers Critical Research, 89 per cent hope to reduce flying in the coming decade.
While flights for the top companies are up four per cent on average over the last year, the figure is expected to drop by three per cent next year.
WWF-UK said that some 85 per cent of those questioned said they thought video-conferencing could help cut the number of flights they take.
The wildlife charity is urging British firms to cut one in five of the flights they take and use technology such as video-conferencing more widely in a bid to reduce their carbon footprint.
According to WWF, 22 million tonnes of CO2 would be saved each year if all EU companies were to cut business travel by 20 per cent – a move it says would be equivalent to taking a third of the UK’s cars off the road.
While the conservation charity acknowledges video-conferencing could not replace meetings with new clients or site visits, it claims that it could be used to combat rising fuel prices and improve employees’ productivity.
WWF also said the findings undermined the Government’s policy of building more runways and expanding airports to maintain the UK’s competitiveness.
Peter Lockley, head of transport policy at WWF-UK, said: "Our report has revealed that there is a real appetite among many of the UK’s biggest business to reduce the number of flights they take.
"For many companies travel is a major contributor to their carbon footprint – more than 50 per cent in some cases – and green alternatives such as video-conferencing not only provide a swift solution for cutting carbon they can also save businesses time and money.
"In the current economic climate, and with increasing carbon accountability, videoconferencing is an easy win for businesses."
He added: "We’re told that expansion at Birmingham is vital for the local economy, but if business travellers – who currently account for more than a fifth of passengers from the UK – are increasingly choosing to hold ‘virtual meetings’ instead of taking flights, then the case for airport expansion begins to evaporate."
A spokeswoman for BIA retorted: "Twenty-six new routes are being launched from Birmingham this year – many to business destinations. That is ample evidence of the demand for business air travel."
Popular business routes include New York, Dubai, Paris and Copenhagen, she said.
And while many companies may be taking measures to cut travel, another survey by Barclaycard Business suggests the changes are not filtering down to staff.
The survey, in which 3,000 business travellers were questioned, found more than three-quarters (78 per cent) were not adhering to their firm’s environmental policy, and just one per cent had reduced travel as a result of it.
Flybe, one of Europe’s largest regional airlines and a major operator at Birmingham, expressed 'disgust' at Ferrovial’s latest profit announcement, where the Spanish-owned airport operator predicted a doubling of profits from £1.066 billion in 2008 to £2.053 billion by 2012. Ferrovial's announcement comes hot on the heels of the recent CAA approval of a 21.3 per cent increase in landing charges for London Gatwick and a similar rise for London Heathrow.
Flybe has now written to Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, calling on her to take immediate action and break up BAA – as recommended by the Competition Commission. Read the Post Agenda tomorrow: Black Country Chamber of Commerce president Peter Matthews on why the expansion of BIA is essential for the West Midlands.