Air transport

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IGN (2021): The COVID-19 pandemic in Spain. First wave: from the first cases to the end of June 2020

Monographs from the National Atlas of Spain. New content

Thematic structure > Social, economic and environmental effects > Mobility > Air transport

Air passenger transport was initially the primary transmitter of the pandemic on an international scale. In March 2020, widespread border closures and restrictions were imposed. The 4.5 billion air passengers recorded in 2019 fell by 66% to 1.8 billion worldwide in 2020. Images of empty or closed airports highlighted the shocking contrast to the ‘hypermobility’ registered in previous years (Méndez, 2021).

Air passengers fell in Spain by 72%, from 275.3 million in 2019 to just 76.1 million in 2020. Air traffic fell by 50%. However, considering only the first four months of the year, air passengers dropped by 90%, plummeting from 95.1 million passengers in 2019 to 9.6 million in 2020. Domestic flights fell by 87% and EU and international flights by 91% for this period, yet the drop was close to 100% in April and May 2020.

In 2019, 69% of the traffic was European and international, with over 80% of flights coming from the rest of the European Union to cater for seasonal and residential tourism. In 2020, domestic flights rose by 8%, slightly increasing their share to 39% of the traffic. The recovery of normal traffic patterns began with domestic flights, as quarantines and other restrictions on international travel were held. In 2019, 50 million passengers flew through Madrid, Barcelona and Palma (Majorca/Mallorca), accounting for more than 52% of total Spanish air traffic during the period under consideration. Adding the passengers that flew through Málaga, Alicante, Gran Canaria and Teneriffe South (Tenerife Sur) to calculate the share attributed to the seven main airports in Spain gives a total of 66.6 million passengers or 70% of Spanish air traffic. These percentages remained largely unchanged during the first wave of the pandemic. The four busiest airports in the country accounted for 55% of the traffic and 5.2 million passengers. Taking into account all seven airports mentioned, the figure rises to 7 million passengers and 73% of the total passenger traffic in Spain.

With regard to freight, the 1.07 billion tonnes transported in 2019 (89% of which was international) fell to 787.8 million tonnes in 2020, i.e. a year-on-year decrease of 26%. This reduction was twice the 11% drop registered globally (Méndez, 2021). The most significant drop in air freight came in April when it dropped by 60%. After that, it recovered slowly but surely, reaching 80% of pre-pandemic figures by the end of 2020 (Martos, 2020). The measures introduced to mitigate the decrease in traffic included discounting the cost of the spaces rented by cargo operators by 65% and postponing the collection of route charges (Báguena, 2020).

  • Map: Air traffic. 2019-2020. Spain. PDF. Data. Interactive versions 1 2.
  • Map: Air passenger traffic. 2019-2020. Spain. PDF. Data. Interactive versions 1 2.
  • Map: Passengers on domestic flights from main airports. 2019-2020. Spain. PDF. Data.
  • Statistical graph: Evolution of air freight traffic. 2019-2020. Spain.

Co-authorship of the text in Spanish: Maurici Ruiz Pérez and Joana Maria Seguí Pons. See the list of members engaged

Adaptation of the text and translation into English for this international version: Andrés Arístegui Cortijo (Translator in chief)


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You can download the complete publication The COVID-19 pandemic in Spain. First wave: from the first cases to the end of June 2020 in Libros Digitales del ANE site.