Flying Matters

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Flying Matters (FM) is a airline industry lobby group, which says it "seeks to contribute to a balanced and informed debate on aviation's contribution to climate change".[1] It states: "We aim to demonstrate that the environmental costs of aviation can and are being addressed effectively, efficiently and fairly."[2]

Funded by BAA

According to an article in The Sunday Times

BAA funds two key groups – Future Heathrow, led by Soley, and FlyingMatters, which is headed by [Brian] Wilson and has also investigated opponents of expansion.[3]Their precursor was Freedom to Fly, which was set up at a time when BAA was concerned that its arguments for more air travel were not being given the same prominence as those of environmental groups, which were warning of the dangers of growing carbon emissions.[3]
BAA is also one of the biggest backers of FlyingMatters, contributing £48,000 in 2007-08. The lobby group operates from offices a short stroll from Westminster where it campaigns for airport expansion and investigates groups opposing BAA’s plans.[3]

John McDonnell, a Labour MP, is quoted in The Sunday Times stating

“BAA dominates the government’s aviation policy. There have been a number of front organisations over the years that have promoted aviation. They are all funded by the industry and are largely paid lobbyists.” [3]

Flying Matters' precursor

According to an article in The Sunday Times, the precursor of Flying Matters was

Freedom to Fly, which was closed after the 2003 aviation white paper was published, was followed by Future Heathrow, the lobby group headed by Soley. As well as BAA, the group’s backers include British Airways, the pilots’ union Balpa and the London Chamber of Commerce.[3]

Freedom to Fly, which was set up by Stephen Hardwick, a former adviser to John Prescott and ex-head of public affairs at BAA.[4]

BAA in collusion with DfT

According to The Guardian, a freedom of information request showed that BAA executives met the DfT 117 times between 2002 and 2007, including 24 meetings with the secretary of state. Papers leaked to the Sunday Times last year, exposed "collusion" between BAA and the DfT over the expansion of Heathrow airport, alleging that BAA executives "prevented the use of data in the consultation document, which showed the expansion would cause unlawful levels of pollution and extra noise".[4]

Leaked: Flying Matters' confidential 2009 Strategy

The papers seen by The Guardian state that

the approach by the DfT to Flying Matters came in October 2008 when the government was facing a back-bench revolt over plans to leave aviation and shipping out of the UK's targets for cutting CO² emissions from the climate change bill which was enacted last year.

The papers read: "The Department for Transport [is] independently approaching Flying Matters for support on key issues (Climate change bill)".[4]

Links with Labour government

As related in an article in The Sunday Times

The airport operator BAA has used an elaborate network of lobbying and PR groups, headed by senior Labour figures with access to the government to front pro-aviation lobby groups.

Controversial influences

Influence on aviation's emissions taxes

An article in The Guardian reveals

Civil servants at the Department for Transport (DfT) asked a top aviation lobby group for help to win the parliamentary battle over keeping aircraft emissions out of key climate change legislation, according to papers seen by the Guardian. The documents, leaked from industry-funded group Flying Matters, which is backed by Heathrow airport operator BAA and airlines including BA, Easyjet and Virgin Atlantic, also state that the group "helped ensure" that the Conservative party dropped plans by senior advisers for a tax on carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft.[4]

Influence on organic status of air-freight food

Flying matters claims to have influenced the Soil Association's decision to drop plans to withdraw organic status from food flown in from developing countries.[4]. The Guardian reveals that

Working with its airline members, Flying Matters also flew African farmers to London to testify that a proposal by the Soil Association to remove the organic status from any fresh produce flown from developing countries would devastate the livelihoods of some of the poorest people in the world. The proposal was dropped.[4]


Generating sympathetic headlines to avoid green taxes

According to an article in The Guardian, Flying Matters

claims that it has "generated" sympathetic headlines about the need to expand airports and avoid green taxes in the Sun, the Sunday Times, and the Evening Standard. It also claims to have placed stories in the Times and Independent. "FM-led stories [have been] placed and hundreds of FM comments and mentions [have been made] in articles", says the document.

Private briefings with MPs

The Guardian states that in response to the Conservatives' quality of life policy review, proposing in 2007 that the Tories halt UK airport expansion and put higher taxes on short-haul flights and gas-guzzling cars

Flying Matters says that "private briefings", conducted with unnamed MPs, and a poll it commissioned before the review was made public, convinced the Conservative party to back away from the proposals. "[Flying Matters' poll] demonstrated that a green tax was a voter loser," it says.[4]

Funding parliamentary groups?

The Guardian suggests that Flying Matters

approached the All Party Parliamentary Aviation Group, one of many informal groups for backbench MPs and peers, with an offer to organise its secretarial services and pay for MPs foreign tours, conferences and publications of reports.
Michelle di Leo denied the suggestion Flying Matters had offered funding. "We did not offer the All Party Parliamentary Aviation Group money. We offered to help them with their secretarial work, not set their agenda. Our role is to get attention for issues. Yes we generated headlines. That's what PR people do. They place stories."

Science Museum complaints

John Vidal and David Adam, writing in The Guardian, commented on Flying Matters's response to a 2008 exhibition at the Science Museum in London about the environmental impact of aviation. Vidal and Adam said the exhibition

does a decent job of running through the scale of the problem, and an equally decent job of putting forward how the industry says it can respond. The latter is to be expected, given the whole thing was put together with the help of EADS, owner of Airbus. Airbus is a member of Flying Matters, the industry lobby group that has now written to Chris Rapley, director of the museum, to criticise the exhibition as "tendentious and unscientific". The lobbyists are unhappy with a pledge that visitors are asked "to buy less air-freighted produce".[6]

Threatened by protest groups?

Flying Matters threatened by protest groups?

Michelle Di Leo, director of FlyingMatters, said: “The terms of the debates on aviation were being set by those opposed to a growth in air transport. Our main objective is to rebalance the public debate.”[3]

Department for Transport threatened by protest groups?

In an article in The Guardian it appears that documents were released by the information commissioner. These documents, taking the form of

a risk register produced by the DfT last year, also disclose that the communications directorate at the department saw it as its job to "monitor protest groups continuously and brief staff and police accordingly".
Department for Transport civil servants repeatedly met aviation industry chiefs in advance of the decision to back a third runway at Heathrow, even though they told environmental groups that there was a blanket ban on meetings with any external bodies.[7]



Contact, References and Resources


Flying Matters
Unit 7 Salamanca Square
9 Albert Embankment
London SE1 7SP



  1. About Us, Flying Matters (Accessed: 24 May 2008)
  2. About Us, Flying Matters (Accessed: 24 May 2008)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Jon Ungoed-Thomas Labour’s flying club lobbies for BAA, The Sunday Times 16/03/08, accessed 31/01/11
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 John Vidal Aviation lobbyists enlisted to tackle rebel climate MPs, leaked papers show The Guardian, 18/02/09, accessed 23/01/11
  5. Glenda Jackson's Website About Glenda accessed 23/01/11
  6. John Vidal and David Adam, Eco Soundings, The Guardian, 21 May 2008.
  7. Patrick Wintour and Dan Milmo Whitehall met aviation chiefs over Heathrow third runwayThe Guardian, 27/03/09, accessed 02/02/11
  8. David Singleton, Fleishman hires UK lobbying chief, Public Affairs News, 31 July 2015