Atlanta Remains Top World Airport in 2018


Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport continues to be the largest in the world in terms of volume, with 107 million passengers, according to preliminary 2018 data released by Airports Council International. Atlanta has held the top position since 2000. However, Atlanta’s passenger growth over the last eight years has been the smallest of the top 20 airports, at 20.2 percent. Should present trends continue, Atlanta could lose the top position, but it is not clear when that is likely, and which urban area will emerge with the top airport.

A review of the 20 busiest airports in the world reveals comparative stability since 2010. There are only three new entrants to the top 20.

Beijing’s Capital City International Airport ranked number two, with 101 million passengers. Beijing has been closing the gap with Atlanta, having trailed by 15 million in 2010. Current growth rates would suggest the Capital City International will overtake Atlanta within a few years. Yet this is unlikely to happen, because of the new Beijing Daxing International airport due to open in September. Daxing International Airport, designed by the late Zaha Hadid, is being built with a capacity of 100 million passengers and will split Beijing’s air travel business with Capital City International.

One or both airports still could be the largest in the future, but it is likely that neither will be in the short run, as they split Beijing’s air travel market. Capital City International will have more of a domestic focus (though not exclusively), justified by its more proximate location relative to central Beijing. Daxing International will have more of an international focus, but will still handle a substantial domestic volume, as the government seeks to encourage development of the nearby Xiongan New Area, to which substantial business and government decentralization is anticipated under the Jing-Jin-Ji development plan.

Third place Dubai International Airport had among the largest percentage gains (89.0 percent) and rose 10 places from 13th in 2010, to 89 million passengers.

Fourth place Los Angeles International moved up from sixth place and posted an increase in passengers of 48.3 percent to 88 million passengers, which was by far the largest gain among US airports in the top 20.

Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, located near the center of the urban area, unlike more remote Narita International, held onto 5th place, while increasing its volume 35.7 percent to 87 million passengers.

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which preceded Atlanta as the largest in the world, fell from 3rd place to 6th place, handling 83 million passengers. Even so, Chicago’s 24.8 percentage volume increase was higher than Atlanta’s.

London Heathrow Airport also fell three positions, from 4th to 7th, handling 80 million passengers. Heathrow’s volume grew by 21.6 percent.

Hong Kong International Airport ranked 8th, and improvement from 11th in 2010. Hong Kong handled 75 million passengers, an increase of 48 percent.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport ranked 9th, up from 20th in 2010. Pudong’s passenger volume was 74 million, up 82.4 percent, the fifth largest increase.

Paris Charles DeGaulle Airport handled 72 million passengers, up 24.2 percent from 2010. Charles De Gaulle fell from 7th place to 10th place.

The three new entrants to the top twenty all rank in the second 10. This reflects largely the growth of airports in developing countries and in east Asia.

Delhi had the largest percentage increase, at 145.0 percent. In 2010, Delhi had 29 million passengers, increasing to 70 million in 2018. Delhi improved from a 44th ranking to 12th.

Seoul-Incheon improved from 33rd to 16th, with a passenger volume that was up 103.4 percent. Seoul-Incheon handled 34 million passengers in 2010 and 68 million in 2018.

Istanbul jumped from 37th position to 17th, with a volume increase of 112.0 percent. Istanbul had 32 million passengers in 2010, rising to 68 million in 2018. The aging, land constrained Ataturk Airport served its last year in 2018 and has now been replaced by the new Istanbul Airport (photo above), with an initial capacity of 90 million annual passengers, and an eventual capacity of 200 million. The new airport is located much farther from the urban center (35 kilometers).

Asian airports ranking in the second 10 had strong growth rates. Guangzhou, ranked 13th, was strong gainer, at 70.3 percent. Singapore (19th) gained 56.1 percent and Jakarta (18th) gained 50.8 percent.

Amsterdam (11th) had the greatest growth of any European airport, at 57.2 percent, with Frankfurt trailing (14th) at 31.1 percent.

Other American airports were among the slowest growing, including Dallas-Fort Worth (15th) at 21.4 percent and Denver (20th) at 23.5 percent.

As Asia continues its economic ascendancy, US and European airports are destined to become less important. All the three new entrants to the top 20 were in Asia. Five of the top 10 airports are now in Asia and 10 of the top 20. The United States and Europe each had five of the top 20 airports.

Meanwhile two of the three airports dropping out of the top 20 were in Europe and the United States, Madrid and New York’s JFK, while Bangkok also fell. The future of air travel, like much else, seems likely to be more about Asia and less about Europe and the United States.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. Speaker of the House of Representatives appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photograph: New Istanbul Airport (from the north). Credit: Jekader [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons