Madrid air traffic to Barcelona (down 40%), Malaga (down 50%) impacted by expanding AVE high-speed rail network

María Zambrano high-speed AVE train station

The deceptively empty María Zambrano high-speed AVE train station in Malaga is in fact attracting traffic from Madrid air services, despite the hideously ugly trains.

Spain’s domestic air travel market is coming under increasing pressure from the on-going expansion of the AVE high-speed rail (HSR) network. The first line was opened as far back as 1992 between Madrid and Seville (to coincide with Seville hosting the Expo that year) and has recently been extended in all directions from Madrid. In 2007, the network reached Malaga and in February 2008, the final section needed to connect Spain’s two biggest cities was completed enabling high-speed rail journeys to and from Barcelona.

An analysis of air traffic demand since 1999 from Madrid to the top 10 domestic destinations clearly reveals the dominance of the Barcelona route, and also the impact of the growing HSR network.

Madrid - top 10 domestic routes Annual passengers 1999-2009 (millions)

Source: AENA

In 2007, passenger numbers between Barcelona and Madrid peaked at almost five million. Last year, this figure had fallen by 40% to just under three million. No other domestic route from Madrid caters for more than two million annual passengers. The next three busiest routes are all to island destinations (Palma, Gran Canaria and Tenerife Norte) and are therefore unlikely to ever face competition from rail services.

Malaga traffic down 50% in two years

A better way to see the relative performance of the individual routes is to look at the figures on an index basis, using 1999 as the base year.

Chart: Madrid - top 10 domestic routes Annual passengers 1999-2009 (Indexed on 1999)

Source: AENA

The impact of the HSR on Barcelona and Malaga traffic can now be seen even more clearly. While Barcelona demand fell 40% in just two years, Malaga traffic halved from 1.54 million to 770,000 passengers. At the beginning of the summer 2007 season a total of 134 weekly departures were provided by Iberia (63), Spanair (44), Air Europa (20) and Vueling (7). Last summer this it had fallen to just 64; Iberia (42) and Spanair (22).

The sudden upturn in traffic on the Madrid – Santiago de Compostela route in 2009 can be attributed to the arrival of Ryanair on the route in November 2008. Previously, the route was dominated by Iberia with around 40 weekly departures with Spanair offering just a single daily flight. Ryanair started the route with two daily flights which has gradually been increased to three. As a result, traffic grew by over 30% in 2009. Ryanair also started daily flights from Madrid to Alicante, Palma and Valencia in November 2008, all routes which reported traffic growth in 2009.

The spike in Vigo’s development is explained by Air Europa entering the market in 2007 to take on Iberia and Spanair. In 2008, Spanair cut its frequencies and last summer it pulled off the route completely.


  1. Andrew says:

    …despite the hideoulsy ugly trains…eh? how is that relevant? Is the driver handsome? Is it raining when the train leaves the station?

  2. Jaume Adrover says:

    It would have been nice to see MAD SEVILLE which was one of the top domestic routes in Spain and it was the first HSR link done in 1992 which totaly destroyed the air traffic demand into only a connecting route for Iberia only. Incidently the cost of building HSR per km in Spain is from 12m-30m€ of public money. Spain has around 2000km of HSR so think about the public money invested. A shame that with so much money they never thought about properly connecting airport to HSR.

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