Air passengers visiting friends and relatives are the strongest growing element of international passenger traffic at UK airports, according to new research from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
So-called VFR traffic currently represents one-quarter of international passengers in the UK, while growth in the sector increased by two-thirds in the period between 2001 and 2007 – compared to a total international passenger growth of one-third.
Commenting on the findings, Dr Harry Bush, CAA group director of economic regulation, said that aviation had been a "key driver" in increasing economic and social integration between the UK and Europe.
"There are now many more passengers travelling to and from the UK to visit friends and relatives in Europe – the result of increased labour mobility, overseas study and home ownership abroad," he said.
Increase in VFR traffic appears to go hand-in-hand with the rise of cheap flights carriers and the subsequent expansion of route networks to EU countries. Short-haul traffic at Stansted and Luton, plus regional airports that have become no-frills bases, have enjoyed particularly high levels of passenger turnover.
The CAA released statistics at the end of October which showed that service quality at Heathrow and Gatwick had improved over the previous six months.