updated 3/2/2010 11:53:00 AM ET 2010-03-02T16:53:00

Budget airlines in Europe gained 13 million more passengers last year, with cheaper prices pulling in customers amid an overall drop in air travel.

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The European Low Fares Airline Association, which includes Ryanair and easyJet, said an 8.7 percent increase in passenger numbers in 2009 allowed their industry expand and hire 3,000 more workers.

Airports say overall passenger numbers dropped 5 percent in Europe last year.

Major carriers were worst affected. The Association of European Airlines said members lost 20 million passengers last year — down 5.8 percent to 325.9 million — as a result of the economic downturn that has cut into business and vacation travel.

The low-fare airlines' group says its members carried 162.5 million passengers last year and their flights now account for over a third of scheduled services within Europe.

Irish-based Ryanair Holdings PLC is the biggest of these airlines, ferrying some 65.3 million people last year. EasyJet was second with 46.1 million passengers.

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