Despite more flights entering and leaving the UK as a whole in 2021, the number of passengers fell to a record low, sparking criticism from environmental organisations over the impact on the climate of running emptier flights.
Civil Aviation Authority data shows 52,327 planes took off or landed at East Midlands Airport in 2021, up 8 per cent from 48,265 in 2020, which was the lowest number since comparable records began in 2010.
By comparison, there were 74,566 flights in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year saw just 1.6 million flights to and from UK airports – the second-lowest number since 2010, but up from 1.5 million in 2020.
However, despite a rise in the number of flights nationally, the figures show the number of passengers passing through UK airports fell from 74.4m to 65.4m, the lowest on record, suggesting planes were carrying fewer passengers than ever last year.
A total of 828,000 passengers boarded or got off domestic or international flights at East Midlands International airport last year, down on the 901,000 passengers who used the airport in 2020, and on 4.7 million in 2019.
Anna Hughes, director of campaign group Flight Free UK, said all flights harm the climate, but it is ‘ludicrous’ that planes are flying half-empty.
Meanwhile, separate Department for Transport figures show 14,500 so-called ‘ghost’ flights took place over a 19-month period during the pandemic.
The international flights, which had no more than 10 per cent of their seats filled, were operated mainly to transport cargo or repatriate Britons stranded overseas.
Of these, 256 occurred at East Midlands Airport between March 2020 and September 2021.
Airlines have traditionally run ghost flights when they need to hit the 80 per cent threshold for using valuable take-off and landing slots at congested airports to retain the right to use them during the following year.
Slot rules were suspended at UK airports shortly after the start of the pandemic, but reintroduced at 50 per cent in October 2021.
A DfT spokeswoman said: “Flights may operate with low passenger numbers for a range of reasons, including carrying key workers or vital cargo.
“However, we acted swiftly to prevent empty aircraft needing to fly solely to retain their slots.”