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Air transport statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from November 2011. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article analyses recent data on air transport in the European Union (EU), both of passengers and of freight and mail. It presents data on air passengers transported, showing a marked impact of the economic crisis. The role of air transport in freight transport is less pronounced, as aircraft are an expensive transport mode in terms of tonne-kilometres and only competitive for longer distances and relatively light high-value or perishable goods.

Figure 1: 2009/2010 growth in total passenger air transport by Member State (in %)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)
Figure 2: EU-27 monthly growth in air passenger transport, 2009/2010 and 2010/2011
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)
Figure 3: Overview of EU-27 air passenger transport in 2010
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)
Table 1: Intra-EU traffic at country level: top-10 country pairs represent 42 % of 2010 intra-EU traffic
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)
Table 2: Overview of EU-27 air passenger transport by Member States in 2010: passengers carried (in 1000)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)
Map 1: Extra-EU27 transport of passengers in 2010
Source: Eurostat (avia_paocc)
Table 3: Top airports in the EU27 in terms of total passengers carried in 2010
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoa)
Map 2: Top ten airport pairs within the EU27 in 2010
Source: Eurostat (avia_par)
Table 4: Overview of EU27 air freight and mail transport by Member States in 2010: freight and mail carried (in tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (avia_gooc)
Table 5: Top 20 airports in the EU27 in terms of total freight and mail carried in 2010 (in tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (avia_gooa)
Table 6: Overview of air passenger transport in EFTA and Candidate countries in 2010 (in 1000 passengers and in tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc) Eurostat (avia_gooc)
Map 3: Air passenger transport flows between EFTA Candidate countries and the EU27 in 2010 (in 1000 passengers)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)

The article distinguishes national (domestic), intra- and extra-EU transport, and also takes a look at the relative importance and ranking of airports.

Main statistical findings

Air transport recovers in 2010, remains vulnerable to unforeseen events

Following the economic crisis which began in 2008 and the first positive signs at the end of 2009, 2010 confirmed the recovery of the air transport industry: between 2009 and 2010, the total number of passengers travelling by air in the European Union increased by 3.4 % to 777 million.

Figure 1 shows the total growth of air passengers by Member State between 2009 and 2010. The stand-out feature is the 12.1 % fall registered for Ireland. 2010 was difficult for Ireland; the slowdown of the economy had a negative impact on the number of passengers.

The air transport industry remains vulnerable to unforeseen events, like extreme weather conditions in the autumn and the eruption of the Icelandic volcano in spring 2010, which led to a major, if temporary, fall in air transport throughout the EU, as Figure 2 shows.

In 2010, London/Heathrow remained the largest EU-27 airport in terms of passenger transport. Frankfurt/Main continued to be the main European airport for freight and mail.

Events affecting air transport

Figure 2 shows the monthly growth in air passenger transport for 2010 and the first quarter of 2011 in the EU-27. It underlines the negative effect that unforeseen events can have on the air transport industry. The second quarter of 2010 is the only period showing negative growth compared with the other quarters presented. This is entirely to do with the problems caused by the Icelandic volcanic eruption, which caused major disruption to air transport in April 2010.

Air passenger transport on the increase

Figure 3 indicates that the intra-EU share of international transport decreased slightly to 41 % in 2010 (against 42 % in 2009). Domestic passenger transport decreased by 1 percentage point over the same period. By contrast, the share of extra-EU passengers increased: the 7.4 % growth between 2009 and 2010 shown in Table 2 for extra-EU 27 transport confirms this growing trend. International intra-EU traffic at country level, as set out in Table 1, shows that for 2010, the top ten country-to-country flows in general remained stable compared with 2009.

One noteworthy feature is that, with one exception, all the country pairs that include the United Kingdom show a decrease between 2009 and 2010.

Map 1 gives an overall picture of the extra-EU market. With 13.9 % growth between 2009 and 2010, ‘Near and Middle East’ is the partner world region with the highest increase for EU passenger transport.

Table 3 shows that London Heathrow still predominates among EU-27 airports, with the highest total of passengers transported by air.

Although for most of the listed airports, total passenger numbers increased in 2010 compared with 2009, there were decreases of between 5 % and 10 % for Dublin (IE), London/Stansted (UK), Manchester (UK) and Athens (EL).

Map 2 presents the top ten airport pairs within the EU-27. It is worth noting that all the routes are domestic ones. The route between Madrid and Barcelona shows an increase of 4.8 % in 2010.

Air freight and mail transport: confirmed recovery

The growing importance of the international extra-EU-27 transport segment is reflected in air freight and mail transport figures at EU level, with substantial growth of 19.5 % in 2010 compared with 2009. In contrast, international intra-EU-27 freight and mail transport recorded a moderate increase of 5.7 % over the same period.

The impressive rise, observed in Table 4, in international extra-EU transport of freight and mail for Lithuania and Slovakia is due to the strong development of Kaunas airport and the new airline companies operating at Bratislava airport in 2010.

In the EU-27, all the top 20 airports in terms of total freight and mail carried registered an increase between 2009 and 2010, with only one exception.

However, about half of these airports still show a fall in the total number of freight flights between 2009 and 2010.

Air transport in EFTA and candidate countries

For EFTA and candidate countries, there is a clear contrast in the evolution of passenger and freight and mail transport between 2009 and 2010. While all EFTA and candidate countries show clear recovery for passengers transport (from +4.7 % to +20.5 %), most countries still faced an annual decline in 2010 in terms of freight and mail transport.

Data sources and availability

Main definitions

The definitions used for air transport statistics are included in Regulation 1358/2003 of 31 July 2003 implementing Regulation 437/2003 of 27 February 2003 on statistical returns in respect of the carriage of passengers, freight and mail by air. The main definitions are the following:

  • On Flight Origin and Destination (OFOD):

Traffic on a commercial air service identified by a unique flight number subdivided by airport pairs in accordance with the point of embarkation and point of disembarkation on that flight. This is linked to the definition of passengers carried.

  • Passengers carried:

All passengers on a particular flight counted once only and not repeatedly on each individual stage of that flight. This excludes direct transit passengers.

  • Freight and mail loaded/unloaded:

All freight and mail loaded onto or unloaded from an aircraft. This excludes direct transit freight and mail. In principle, information provided in this article is based on On Flight Origin/Destination (OFOD) data. Only when OFOD data have not been reported have airport declarations been used.

  • Airport coverage:

In principle, this article covers air transport to and from any airports in the reporting countries with more than 150 000 passengers annually.

Notes on some reporting countries

  • France: due to freight and mail data collection difficulties, the freight data for the two main airports in Paris (Charles de Gaulle and Orly) are underestimated; this also affects the aggregated freight and mail data for France.
  • Turkey: only provides airport declarations (Dataset C1).
  • Iceland: only data for Keflavik airport are available for OFOD declarations.
  • Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: only provides airport declarations (Dataset C1).

Double counting:  the national aggregates and total intra-EU-27 aggregates exclude any double counting.

Table 1:  for this particular table, the figures (and related shares) for the countries flows have been calculated by adding the "Departures" declarations of the two countries concerned.

Map 1: the component countries comprising the world regions as defined for this map are based on the geonomenclature used by Eurostat for external trade statistics. The components of each world region can be extracted from the Aviation domain of the Eurostat on-line database or obtained upon request. Some care should be taken in drawing conclusions as regards world regional shares due to the fact that passengers who either stop-over or change planes en-route will be allocated to the country in which they made their connections and not to the country of first origin or final destination.

Map 2:  the total figures for each pair of airports have been calculated by adding together the ‘Departures’ declarations of the two airports concerned.

Map 3:  the share of total transport represents, for each candidate country and each EFTA country, the share of total transport to/from EU countries. As indicated under the maps, transport to/from EU countries is sometimes estimated on the basis of mirror EU declarations.

In this article

  • ":" means "not available"
  • "-" means "not applicable"
  • "0" means "less than half the unit used"


Following the economic crisis which began in 2008 and the first positive signs at the end of 2009, 2010 confirmed the recovery of the air transport industry: between 2009 and 2010, the total number of passengers travelling by air in the European Union increased by 3.4 % to 777 million.

All figures presented in this article have been extracted from the Eurostat aviation database. The database is available online from the Eurostat web page.

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Air transport (t_avia)
Air transport of passengers (ttr00012)
Air transport of goods (ttr00011)


Air transport (avia)
Air transport measurement - passengers (avia_pa)
Air transport measurement - Detailed air passenger transport by reporting country and routes (avia_par)
Air transport measurement - Air transport measurement - freight and mail (avia_go)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Other information

External links

See also