The US and China have largest domestic networks in 2017, but Australia offers more seats per capita and Middle East markets are growing fast

The US market might account for 15% of all domestic capacity on sale in 2017, but Australia provides more internal seats per capita. The Antipodean island offer 3.2 domestic seats for each of its 24.5 million inhabitants more than any of the other top 12 domestic markets. Australia’s busiest domestic sector between Sydney and Melbourne is also the fourth largest in the world, based on available seats in 2017.

Domestic air services can provide vital links in countries with large distances between population centres, or challenging geographic obstacles that could make other modes of transport unsuitable. The following analysis of the largest and fastest growing domestic networks uses OAG Schedules Analyser’s definition of what constitutes domestic services. Some links that operate between different countries, but under certain classifications are still considered domestic flights, may not qualify as domestic services here. The analysis also uses United Nations ‘Medium Variant’ estimated population data for 2017 for the top 12 country markets to calculate the number of domestic seats per capita.

Developing economies lead domestic growth

The total capacity available in the US and Chinese domestic markets accounts for more seats than the 56 next largest domestic networks combined in 2017. The US has traditionally had the largest network of internal services, but given its market maturity was only ninth amongst the top 12 countries for domestic growth from 2016 to 2017. The top ranked domestic markets that witnessed the strongest year-on-year percentage increases in capacity were generally associated with countries with less mature air service networks and developing economies. China, India and Indonesia lead the way, with each country experiencing a 14% increase in domestic seats from 2016 to 2017. Russia, which has a more mature air service network, also witnessed a 14% increase in domestic capacity.

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – non-stop flights only, 2017 data subject to change.

The six domestic airport pairs which experienced the most capacity in 2017 can all be classified as operating within the Asia Pacific region. The largest domestic route is the internal South Korean service from Seoul Gimpo to Jeju which witnessed nearly seven million seats operated across more than 33,000 flights over the course of the year. OAG schedules show that during the week commencing 21 November, the Seoul Gimpo-Jeju sector will be served by 623 frequencies.

More domestic seats per person down under

Australians should have no problem finding a seat on domestic connections, since the Antipodean island offers 3.2 domestic seats per capita in 2017. This is higher than any of the other top 12 domestic markets. There are more than 78 million seats on offer to an estimated population of 24.5 million in Australia in 2017. That is in stark contrast to India where there are about 143 million seats on offer to 1.3 billion people, or 0.1 seats per capita. The largest domestic airport pair in Australia is the connection from Sydney-Melbourne, which will support 5.1 million one-way seats across more than 27,000 flights in 2017.

Source:Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – non-stop flights only, 2017 data subject to change.

When the 12 largest domestic markets are ordered by seats per capita it becomes apparent that the top-ranked countries are those with the most mature air service networks. Some countries, including China and India are unlikely to ever match Australia’s seat per capita index, due to the sheer size of their populations. They should, however, close the gap and continue to increase the available seats per person in their domestic networks as they grow at a faster rate than more established markets.

Big five Western European markets experience domestic decline

No Western European countries feature in the top-ranked domestic networks in 2017. This may be due to a number of contributing factors, including a comparative lack of the kind of geographical obstacles present in some of the nations with more domestic seats. This, combined with Western Europe’s well developed road and rail infrastructure and the shorter distances between population centres, could make alternative modes of transport more competitive and appealing. The largest domestic markets in Western Europe in 2017 belong to Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the UK. With the exception of France, all of these markets have seen a decline in domestic capacity since 2008.

Source: Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – non-stop flights only, 2017 data subject to change.

The UK experienced the largest reduction in domestic seats among the big five Western European markets between 2008 and 2017, with a 23% cut in capacity. Spain, Italy and Germany saw reductions of 21%, 9.4% and 8.2% respectively over the same period. Only France experienced an upturn in domestic seats, with a modest capacity increase of 2.3% from 2008 to 2017. Germany was the only big five Western European market to see a decline in domestic seats from 2016 to 2017 with a 1.8% reduction. The UK market remained static, but Spain, Italy and France witnessed domestic growth of 7.8%, 2.8% and 1.8% respectively during this timeframe.

Middle East on the move with strong domestic growth

Outside of the 12 largest domestic markets some of the strongest growth has come in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has the 20th largest domestic network in the world, based on available seats in 2017 and has seen year-on-year domestic capacity growth of 21% since 2016. Iran, which has the 26th largest domestic network, has seen a 28% year-on-year increase in internal seats.

Source: Source: OAG Schedules Analyser – non-stop flights only, 2017 data subject to change.

Saudi Arabia has witnessed consistent year-on-year domestic expansion since 2008. More than 32 million seats have been available on internal services in the country in 2017, which is a 132% increase since 2008. The rapid domestic growth in the Middle East kingdom is a result of increases in capacity by Saudi Arabian Airlines and LCCs entering the market, including flynas and flyadeal. The largest domestic airport-pair in Saudi Arabia is the link from Jeddah-Riyadh. OAG schedules show that six carriers will operate a combined 334 frequencies on this sector during the week commencing 21 November.’s New Route Database indicates that carriers have launched 11 domestic services in Saudi Arabia during 2017.

Two of the fastest growing domestic markets are in the Middle East states of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The latter witnessed the strongest year-on-year growth in capacity among the top 20 domestic markets from 2016 to 2017. More than 32 million seats will be available on Saudi Arabian domestic flights in 2017. LCC flyadeal became the latest carrier to launch services on the busy Jeddah-Riyadh route in September.


  1. Martin says:

    Why is not Norway listed in the largest domestic markets pr. capita? It exeeds Australia with capacity.
    Just in seats flown it’s 2,4 seats pr. capita (one way).
    Owerall Capacity is much higher.
    OSL-BGO/SVG/TRD is among the busiest routes in Europe served daily by up to 30 one-way B737 departures each.

    • Nick Preston says:

      Thanks for your comment and interesting point regarding Norway. You are correct that Norway offers more domestic seats per capita than Australia (up to 4.6 according to our calculations!), but the table only refers to the 12 largest domestic markets by total seats, of which Australia offers the most seats per member of population. Norway has the 24th largest domestic market in 2017 according to available capacity.

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