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The UK’s air traffic control organisation NATS’ Aviation Index report has discovered a more positive view of drone technology and that the proportion of people who had flown in the last 12 months remained significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels. 

The annual report, which tracks people’s perceptions of the aviation industry and various key issues, found that 41% of people had flown by commercial airline in the last year, up 16% in 2022 but still below the 60% that answered positively in 2019. 

In addition to uncovering the public’s own flying habits, the report also discovered that the majority of the UK public support the use of drones in a range of circumstances, with the most support coming for their use by emergency services, supported by 75% of respondents. 

NATS head of new airspace user engagement Russell Porter said: “The potential for drones is huge and it’s positive to see the public becoming more aware of this and supportive of it.” 

The least popular use of drones was for the delivery of goods, although that was still supported by 55% of people, while 66% saw their use for surveillance and security largely positively and 62% felt the same about using drones for photos and videos for public services. 

The positive response to the technology comes the same year that NATS published a whitepaper calling for reform of the regulatory framework to enable remotely piloted flights in more areas of airspace through the use of “electronic conspicuity” technology that has the ability to detect and be detected for both crewed and uncrewed aircraft. 

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Porter said: “We’ve supported a range of trials and individual projects around the UK, but each of those requires the creation of temporarily segregated airspace so those drones can fly ‘beyond visual line of sight’. 

“That’s not scalable in the longer term and our whitepaper sets out the policy changes that would enable the industry to flourish.” 

Another key finding of the survey was that the importance of the environment in the flying habits of consumers had largely dropped, with a decrease in the number of people who thought reducing emissions should be the key priority for airlines and a rise in the proportion of the public that said they don’t consider the environmental impact of their flights. 

Additionally, slightly fewer people were taking action to reduce their impact on the environment, such as stopping taking domestic flights, reducing the number of flights they take and using public transport instead of driving to and from airports. 

NATS’ report on the increased popularity of drones comes only shortly after Royal Mail partnered with drone company Skyports Drone Services to launch a delivery project in Orkney, Scotland.