Air transport statistics

Data extracted in December 2018.

Planned article update: November 2019.

In 2017, 1 043 million people in the EU travelled by air, an increase of 7.3 % compared with 2016.
In 2017, London Heathrow recorded the highest number of air passengers (78 million), followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle (69 million).
In 2017, Paris/Charles de Gaulle remained the main European airport for freight and mail for the third consecutive year.
Extra-EU-28 transport of passengers in 2017
Source: Eurostat (avia_paexcc)

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 2016 and 2017. 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 2017

In 2017, the total number of passengers travelling by air in the European Union could be established at 1 043 million, an increase of 7.3% compared with 2016 as presented in Table 2.

Figure 1 shows the total growth of air passengers by Member State between 2016 and 2017. The disparity is particularly marked at country level, with year-on-year growths ranging from 1.5% in Denmark to +19.8% in Slovenia.

Figure 1: 2016/2017 growth in total passenger air transport by Member State (in %)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)

In 2017, London/Heathrow remained the largest EU-28 airport in terms of passenger transport. Paris/Charles de Gaulle remained the main European airport for freight and mail for the third consecutive year.

Figure 2 shows the year-on-year monthly growth in air passenger transport for 2017 in the EU-28. It underlines the continued growth in air transport passengers in 2017: the four quarters of 2017 show an increase of the growth compared to the corresponding quarters of 2016 (+6.9%, +9.4%, +6.6% and +6.0% respectively).

Figure 2: EU-28 monthly growth in air passenger transport, 2016/2017
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)

Table 2: Overview of EU-28 air passenger transport by Member States in 2017: passengers carried (in 1000)
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)

47 % of total passenger transport to/from Intra-EU-28

Figure 3 indicates that the intra-EU share in total transport could be established at 47%. It was the main destination ahead of extra-EU transport (36%) and domestic passenger transport (17%).

Figure 3: Overview of EU-28 air passenger transport in 2017
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoc)

International intra-EU traffic at country level, as set out in Table 1, shows that for 2017, the top ten country-to-country flows in general remained stable compared with 2016. The United Kingdom is the country the most represented, being involved in half of the top ten routes. All routes are showing increases between 2016 and 2017.

Table 1: Intra-EU traffic at country level:  top-10 country pairs represent 40 % of 2017 intra-EU traffic Note: See methodological notes Source:  Eurostat (avia_paocc)

Map 1 gives an overall picture of the extra-EU market. With a 38% increase between 2016 and 2017, ‘Asian Republics of the Ex-USSR’ is the partner world region with the highest increase for EU passenger transport. The highest and continued decrease of Australia – 4.1% could be partially linked to the increase in Middle East (+9.3%) – more passengers taking indirect flight to Australia changing in Near and Middle East airports. North Africa also recorded an important increase after a several years decrease +19.5%.

Map 1: Extra-EU-28 transport of passengers in 2017
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 (78 million passengers in 2017). It was followed by Paris Charles de Gaulle (69 million), Amsterdam Schiphol (68 million), Frankfurt Main (64 million) and Madrid Barajas (52 million), the sole airports registering over 50 million passengers.

Table 3: Top airports in the EU-28 in terms of total passengers carried in 2017
Source: Eurostat (avia_paoa)

Although for a number of airports, total number of flights decreased (6 airports out of 42), total passenger numbers increased in 2017 compared with 2016 for almost all airports. There was a slight decrease for only three airports, Berlin/Tegel (-3.7%), Roma/Fiumicino (-1.8%) and Vilnius (-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 München and Hamburg shows a decrease of 3.4% in 2017, contrasting with the 9.7% rise observed for the route between Palma and Barcelona.

Map 2: Top ten airport pairs within the EU-28 in 2017
Source: avia_par

Air freight and mail transport: increasing international transport between 2016 and 2017

The growing importance of the international transport segment is reflected in air freight and mail transport figures at EU level. Growths of 1.6% and 9.8% were recorded for international intra-EU and extra-EU respectively in 2017 compared with 2016. Compared with previous year where a decrease of 3.6% was recorded, domestic freight and mail transport recorded an increase of 4.9% between 2016 and 2017. Table 4 shows that the evolution of freight and mail transport by air between 2016 and 2017 varies significantly at country level, with growths ranging from -19% in Estonia, to +34% in Slovenia.

Table 4: Overview of EU-28 air freight and mail transport by Member States in 2017: freight and mail loaded/unloaded (in tonnes)
Source: Eurostat (avia_gooc)

In the EU-28, Paris/Charles de Gaulle remained the main European airport for freight and mail for the third consecutive year. All top 20 airports in terms of total freight and mail loaded/unloaded registered an increase between 2016 and 2017, particularly Barcelona airport that recorded an increase of 21%; +7.9% in number of freight flights.

Seven of these top 20 airports show a fall in the total number of freight flights between 2016 and 2017.

Table 5: Top 20 airports in the EU-28 in terms of total freight and mail loaded/unloaded in 2017 (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 2016 and 2017 varies significantly, with growths ranking from -3.2% in Montenegro, to +32.5% in Norway.

Table 6: Overview of air passenger transport in EFTA and Candidate countries in 2017 (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 2017 (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:

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

  • 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: only data for Keflavik airport are available for OFOD declarations

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.

In this article

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


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)