Spanish aviation sector recovery less than expected

by Lorraine Williamson
aviation sector recovery hopes

MADRID – In 2021, the number of passengers at Spanish airports increased significantly compared to 2020. However, the expected recovery failed to materialise for the aviation sector. Nevertheless, the figures from December give hope for further recovery in 2022.

Airport operator Aena registered a total of 119.5 million passengers last year, which is less than half (43.6%) of the number of passengers in 2019. However, compared to the first pandemic year 2020, there was an increase of 57.7%. 

Less international travel 

Of the 119.3 million passengers on commercial flights, 52 million travelled on a domestic flight. This was almost 40% less compared to 2019; 67.3 million visitors travelled on an international flight. This was even 64.3% less. Madrid airport handled the most travellers in 2021, at 24.1 million. However, that was still 60.9% less than in 2019, but 41% more than in 2020. After Madrid, most passengers travelled to or from Barcelona airport. That was 18.8 million last year; a decrease of 64.2% compared to 2019 and an increase of 48.2% compared to 2020. After Barcelona, ​​the airports of Palma de Mallorca, Málaga, Gran Canaria, Alicante, Ibiza, Tenerife and Valencia were the most chosen  

Looking at the number of flights operated in 2021, the most took place at Madrid airport (49% less than in 2019), again followed by Barcelona (-52.2%) and Palma de Mallorca at number three (-35% ). 

Cogesa Expats

In 2021, a total of 999,471 tons of cargo was transported by air in Spain, which was 6.6% less than in 2019. This was due to part of the cargo being transported by commercial flights last year. Looking at cargo flights, the largest cargo arrived at Madrid airport, followed by Zaragoza airport, Barcelona and Vitoria. 


In the month of December of last year, Aena registered 12.7 million passengers. This is a decrease of more than 30% compared to December 2019. This means that if only the last month of the year is taken into account, the recovery is not 43 .6% (the percentage for the whole of 2021). But that this is a lot higher at 69.7%. Compared to 2020, there was even an increase of more than 233% in December. The figures from December 2021, therefore, give rise to a positive expectation about the recovery of aviation activity in 2022.

Related article: Thousands of jobs insecure in airline sector

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