Source: Informa Markets. Note: Direct lines may not represent actual flight paths.
Although air transportation is commonly believed to mostly service long-distance markets, the business thrives at servicing short-haul markets of less than 1,000 km; less than 2 hours of flight time. The world’s busiest air route is between Seoul and the resort island of Jeju, located 450 km apart. It accounted for 16 million passengers in 2022. Short-haul air routes take different configurations depending on the region they serve:
- East Asia has experienced fast growth in its air travel industry. Japan accounts for many of the busiest routes, even if the national urban system has been extensively linked with high-speed rail. The routes involved are beyond the 2 hours service timeframe for high-speed rail (Sapporo, Fukuoka), or not connected by high-speed rail services (Okinawa). The Hong Kong – Taipei segment emerged since direct flights between Taiwan and mainland China were prohibited until 2014. The Chinese domestic air market is substantial, with the main routes involving long-distance connections between Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. This connectivity is complemented by a high-speed rail system.
- Southeast Asia. Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam have substantial domestic air markets partly driven by their geography (archipelago nations) and the poor connectivity of their national highway systems.
- Europe. Although the European air transport network is extensive, it does not figure predominantly among the world’s busiest air routes. For many of the largest city pairs that used to represent important air routes, the development of high-speed rail has captured a significant amount of traffic. Many airports within Europe confer an extensive air transport network, but few large-scale airports. The corridors that still rank among the world’s busiest involve city pairs not well-serviced by train services, such as Paris – Toulouse, Paris – Nice, and Madrid – Barcelona. Still, policies are being implemented to shift short-distance air travel with high-speed rail.
- North America has the longest domestic routes, where many of the busiest routes involve more than 2 hours flights. New York – Chicago, Los Angeles – San Francisco, and New York – Los Angeles are the most proeminent.
- Central and South America. Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil have developed active domestic markets partly due to economic development and constraining geography that does not support highway system development.
- Dubai – London and London – New York are the most salient long-distance routes. They are all major regional connectors and the hub of major global carriers.