Air transport provides important transportation services for economic development; meanwhile, its operation requires massive resource inputs into the air transport sector (ATS). In order to ensure sustainable development of air transport industry, improve the utilization efficiency of resources, and coordinate the development of the ATS and the macroeconomy, the operational efficiency of the industry should be evaluated accurately. However, few studies have analyzed the operational performance of ATSs across different regions. This study therefore constructs an index system and applied a three-stage data envelopment analysis (DEA) approach, which considers various regional environmental factors and statistical noise, to evaluate regional ATS operational performance. China’s 30 provincial ATS operational efficiencies in year 2017 are empirically evaluated using the proposed model. The empirical results show that different levels of environmental factors, such as regional GDP, openness, technical markets, technological development, and consumption, pose various influences on provincial ATS operational efficiency in China. Operational performance evaluation results eliminating these environmental effects in the third stage show considerable differences with that stage 1 results. In addition, corresponding development strategy implications in different provinces and regions are put forward according to the evaluation results.
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