Air transport statistics

Data extracted in December 2019.

Planned article update: December 2020.

In 2018, 1 106 million people in the EU travelled by air, an increase of 6.0 % compared with 2017.
In 2018, London Heathrow recorded the highest number of air passengers (80 million), followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle (72 million).
In 2018, Frankfurt/Main became the main European airport for freight and mail.

2017/2018 growth in total passenger air transport by Member State (in %)

This article analyses recent data on air transport in the European Union (EU), both for passengers and freight and mail. It presents data on air passengers transported, showing the slight increase observed at EU-28 level between 2017 and 2018. 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.

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

Full article

Progressive growth in air transport of passengers in the course of 2018

In 2018, the total number of passengers travelling by air in the European Union could be established at 1 106 million, an increase of 6.0% compared with 2017 as presented in Table 1.

Figure 1 shows the total growth of air passengers by Member State between 2017 and 2018. The disparity is particularly marked at country level, with year-on-year growths ranging from 1.3% in Sweden to +19.2% in Lithuania.

Figure 1: 2017/2018 growth in total passenger air transport by Member State (in %)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)

In 2018, London/Heathrow remained the largest EU-28 airport in terms of passenger transport. Frankfurt Main became the main European airport for freight and mail after 3 consecutive years where Paris/Charles de Gaulle was on the top (see tables 3 and 5).

Figure 2 shows the year-on-year monthly growth in air passenger transport for 2018 in the EU-28. It underlines the continued growth in air transport passengers in 2018: the four quarters of 2018 show an increase of the growth compared to the corresponding quarters of 2017 (+6.8%, +5.7%, +5.1% and +6.9% respectively).

Figure 2: EU-28 monthly growth in air passenger transport, 2017/2018
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)

Table 1: Overview of EU-28 air passenger transport by Member States in 2018: passengers carried (in 1000)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)

Total passenger transport to/from Intra-EU-28 represented almost half of the total air passenger transport

Figure 3 indicates that the intra-EU share in total transport could be established at 46%. It was the main destination ahead of extra-EU transport (37%) and domestic passenger transport (17%).

Figure 3: Overview of EU-28 air passenger transport in 2018
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)

International intra-EU traffic at country level, as set out in Table 2, shows that for 2018, the top ten country-to-country flows in general remained stable compared with 2017. The United Kingdom is the country the most represented, being involved in half of the top ten routes. All routes are showing increases between 2017 and 2018 with the exception of the most important route, United Kingdom – Spain, that show a 3% decrease.

Table 2: Intra-EU traffic at country level: top-10 country pairs represent 40 % of 2018 intra-EU traffic
Note: See methodological notes
Source: Eurostat (avia_paocc)

Map 1 gives an overall picture of the extra-EU market. With a 18% increase between 2017 and 2018, ‘North Africa’ is the partner world region with the highest increase for EU passenger transport. The highest and continued decrease of Australia – 7.8% could be partially linked to the increase in Middle East (+5.9%) – more passengers taking indirect flight to Australia changing in Near and Middle East airports. ‘Asian Republics of the Ex-USSR ‘ also recorded an important increase after a several years decrease +15.1%.

Map 1: Extra-EU-28 transport of passengers in 2018
Source: Eurostat (avia_paexcc)

Table 3 shows that London Heathrow still predominates among EU-28 airports, with the highest total of passengers transported by air (80 million passengers in 2018). It was followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle (72 million), Amsterdam Schiphol (71 million), Frankfurt Main (69 million) and Madrid Barajas (56 million), the sole airports registering over 50 million passengers.

Table 3: Top airports in the EU-28 in terms of total passengers carried in 2018
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoa)

Although for a number of airports, total number of flights decreased (5 airports out of 41), total passenger numbers increased in 2018 compared with 2017 for almost all airports. There was a slight decrease for only two airports, Hamburg (-2.2%) and Düsseldorf (-1.4%).

Map 2 presents the top ten airport pairs within the EU-28. It is worth noting that all but one route are domestic ones. The route between Paris/Orly and Toulouse shows a decrease of 1.9% in 2018, contrasting with the 17.1% rise observed for the route between Berlin and Frankfurt Main.

Map 2: Top ten airport pairs within the EU-28 in 2018
Source: avia_par

Air freight and mail transport: increasing international transport between 2017 and 2018

The growing importance of the international transport segment is reflected in air freight and mail transport figures at EU level. Growths of 1.9% and 2.5% were recorded for total transport and extra-EU transport respectively in 2018 compared with 2017. Compared with previous year where an increase of 4.9% and 1.6% were recorded, domestic and intra-EU freight and mail transport recorded decreases of 0.7% and 0.5% between 2017 and 2018. Table 4 shows that the evolution of freight and mail transport by air between 2017 and 2018 varies significantly at country level, with growths ranging from -14.2% in Bulgaria, to +40.3% in Greece.

Table 4: Overview of EU-28 air freight and mail transport by Member States in 2018: freight and mail loaded/unloaded (in tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (avia_gooc)

In the EU-28, Paris/Charles de Gaulle became the second largest European airport for freight and mail after three consecutive years at the top. Frankfurt Main became the main European airport in terms of freight and mail loaded/unloaded. Among the top 20 airports, seven countries registered a decrease between 2017 and 2018 in terms of total freight and mail loaded/unloaded, particularly London/Stansted airport that recorded a decrease of 5.3%; -5.0% in number of freight flights.

Frankfurt-Hahn shows an increase of 33.9% in terms of freight and mail loaded/unloaded between 2017 and 2018.

Table 5: Top 20 airports in the EU-28 in terms of total freight and mail loaded/unloaded in 2018 (in tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (avia_gooa)

Air transport in EFTA and candidate countries

All EFTA and candidate countries recorded an increase in terms of passengers transported. The evolution of freight and mail transport by air in those countries between 2017 and 2018 varies significantly, with growths ranking from 1.4% in Switzerland, to +17.0% in North Macedonia (see table 6).

Table 6: Overview of air passenger transport in EFTA and Candidate countries in 2018 (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 EU-28 in 2018 (in 1000 passengers)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

Main definitions

The definitions used for air transport statistics are included in Regulation (EC) No 1358/2003 of 31 July 2003 implementing Regulation (EC) No 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:

Refers to all passengers on a particular flight (with one flight number) counted once only and not repeatedly on each individual stage of that flight. It includes all revenue and non-revenue passengers whose journey begins or terminates at the reporting airport and transfer passengers joining or leaving the flight at the reporting airport as well as transfer passengers. Direct transit passengers are excluded.

  • Passengers on board (data for Turkey):

Refers to all passengers on board of the aircraft upon landing at the reporting airport or at taking off from the reporting airport. It includes all revenue and non-revenue passengers on board an aircraft during a flight stage as well as direct transit passengers (counted at arrivals and departures).

  • 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

  • Turkey: only provides flight stage data (Dataset A1) (in which there is no information on passenger carried and freight and mail loaded/unloaded) and airport declarations (Dataset C1) in which the partner airport is not provided. National and international transport cannot be calculated.
  • Iceland: Break in time series: As of 2018, Iceland data include data on three airports: Akureyri, Keflavik and Reykjavik.

Double counting: the national aggregates and total intra-EU-28 aggregates exclude any double counting. It includes all the departures figures reported plus "a part of" arrivals declarations, "a part of" including those arrivals declarations for which the corresponding departures declarations of the partner airport are missing.

Table 1: the figures (and related shares) for the countries flows have been calculated by excluding the double counting at country-to-country route level. The figures are derived from table avia_paocc; the double counting for identical routes is excluded in order to obtain the correct total for country pairs. The data can be extracted from the aviation domain of the Eurostat on-line database or obtained upon request.

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.


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

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Air transport (t_avia)
Air transport of passengers (ttr00012)
Air transport of goods (ttr00011)
Air transport (avia)
Air transport measurement - passengers (avia_pa)
Detailed air passenger transport by reporting country and routes (avia_par)
Air transport measurement - freight and mail (avia_go)