NATS Aviation Index 2021

A summary of the 2021 Aviation Index report, looking at public attitudes towards aviation in the pandemic

The author(s)

  • Lore Bizgan Public Affairs
  • Lewis Hill Public Affairs
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The 2021 Aviation Index, in partnership with NATS, offers a unique perspective on the change in public attitudes to aviation, with 2020 survey data recorded just weeks before lockdown restrictions began, and 2021 data gauging sentiment one year on from the start of the pandemic. It seems unlikely that the aviation industry will recover from the shock of COVID-19 and the resulting recession for many years, but the data here not only provides a picture of public attitudes at a unique period in aviation history, but also gives vital insight into where the public stands on key issues today.

A summary of key findings from this year’s Aviation Index:

  • The impact of COVID-19 on perceptions and behaviour has been significant, and there is still a great deal of uncertainty about prospects for international travel this year.
  • The survey findings underline how dramatic the drop-off in flying was last year –just one in eight flew in the last 12 months, compared with more than half of the British public the previous year. 
  • More than two-thirds said they missed travelling abroad this year, despite widespread concern about more airlines going out of business and flight prices increasing as a consequence of COVID-19. By a margin of three to one, people still enjoy flying as a mode of travel, offering hope for the industry when restrictions are fully lifted.
  • However, the public are still nervous about the idea of travelling internationally, and most are looking closer to home for holidays this year.
  • That said, there is little opposition to masks, vaccine passports and testing to enable flying during the pandemic, with quarantine the main intervention which people say would make them less likely to fly this year.
  • Despite COVID anxiety about travelling abroad this year, flying is seen as safer than it’s ever been.
  • The environment remains top of the public’s aviation agenda. Two-thirds want emissions reduction to be the top priority for improvement in the industry, twice the proportion who think reducing noise should be the top priority.
  • There is also widespread agreement that the aviation industry should be prioritising investment in greener technology such as fully electric commercial aircrafts.
  • There are small increases in the numbers of people taking (and willing to take) action personally. However, the public remain split over whether people should be discouraged from flying if they want to (still around a third on either side of the fence).
  • The public are largely looking to the aviation industry to provide solutions, feeling that airlines, industry bodies and the Government should take most responsibility for reducing the impact of flights in the UK. Just 4% think individual passengers themselves should be most responsible.
  • While Brexit may not affect holiday destination choices for many, there is widespread concern that flight prices will go up, a marked increase on last year where comparatively fewer said they expected prices to rise.
  • The controversy over drones appears to have fallen away slightly after last year, and the public are now, on balance, more likely to think the benefits of drones outweigh the costs. People also continue to see the benefits of drones from an emergency services and commerce perspective.
  • Support for changes to flight paths remains largely unchanged (and net positive), but support falls where new residential areas are located under paths for the first time and where some areas experience more noise. By contrast, support rises if the changes reduce delays or CO2 emissions.

Technical note:

This research was conducted online through the Ipsos MORI Online Panel. A total of 1,000 UK members of the panel aged 18+ took part between 8 and 12 March 2021. Previous surveys were conducted in 2018, 2019 and 2020. 

The author(s)

  • Lore Bizgan Public Affairs
  • Lewis Hill Public Affairs

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