Atlanta tops the passenger numbers league as part of mature market renaissance, but Asia Pacific leads the growth

Industry body Airports Council International (ACI) has released its official passenger and cargo statistics for 2016 with the standout news being the growth of the major hubs, Los Angeles International Airport’s rise into the top four and Shanghai PuDong International Airport’s debut in the top ten lists for busiest global airports.

Highlighting clearly the axis of global aviation’s move eastwards, the highest number of passengers travelled through airports in the Asia-Pacific region, where the largest year-on-year traffic rise was also reported.

Worldwide airport passenger numbers increased +6.5% in 2016 to almost 7.7 billion, registering increases in all regions except Africa, which had a slight decrease of -0.4% due to the region’s -1.7% decrease in international passenger. Here’s the full breakdown by geographical region:

  • Asia-Pacific (2.73 billion, up 10.6% over 2015)
  • Europe (2.04 billion, up 5.2% over 2015)
  • North America (1.79 billion, up 3.8% over 2015)
  • Latin America-Caribbean (588 million, up 1.2% over 2015)
  • Middle East (369 million, up 9.4% over 2015)
  • Africa (182 million, down 0.4% over 2015)

Interestingly, the latest edition of the World Airport Traffic Report reveals that many mature market airports have made large strides in their throughput volumes. “The irony is that several of the mature markets appear to be no longer mature as compared to their historical growth levels as they diverge from the average annual growth rates,” acknowledges Angela Gittens, director general, ACI World. “Instead of seeing year-over-year growth rates that converge to expected values and conventional forecasts, growth rates for a number of airports are approaching what we see in some emerging markets.”

VIEW FULL INFOGRAPHIC – WATR_Annual_World_Traffic_Report

As expected, Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport retains top spot as the busiest airport, both for the number of passengers and aircraft movements. Beijing Capital International and Dubai International continue to narrow the gap though there is still plenty of ground to make up.

The two fastest growing airports of the top ten as gauged by passenger numbers were Shanghai PuDong International (#9) at 9.8% and Los Angeles International (#4) at 8.0%; the latter having overtaken Chicago’s O’Hare International as the US’s second busiest airport.

Only two European airports figure in the top 10: London Heathrow (+1%) and Paris Charles de Gaulle (+0.3%), rates that are considerably behind those of the others in the table although Heathrow does suffer from well-documented capacity constraints.

TABLE – The Top Ten busiest airports list continues to be dominated by Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, but its rivals continue to grow at a faster rateSource: The Blue Swan Daily and ACI 

Atlanta also heads the table of busiest airports by aircraft movements. In this instance though, seven of the top ten airports are in the US. Los Angeles is again well represented by a growth rate of 6.3% but the largest gains were made at Shanghai (+6.8%) and at Amsterdam Schiphol, the only European airport to figure in the table, at +6.6%.

There are passenger congestion issues at Schiphol Airport, and the Dutch government will impose a new movement cap after 2020 when it will be restricted to 500,000 per annum until that time (there were 496,000 in 2016). Efforts are under way to promote Lelystad Airport, which is also owned by parent, Schiphol Group, as an alternative for charter and low cost scheduled flights.

TABLE – Strong network growth at Amsterdam Schiphol meant it was among the fastest growing major airports in the world in 2016 by total movements, but a capacity crunch could restrict its future developmentSource: The Blue Swan Daily and ACI

The most interesting table is that of the fastest growing airports in 2016 in the > 40 million ppa category. Of those top 20 it is no surprise to see the likes of Dubai International continuing to feature. But it only just makes the list, with the fastest growth among these large airports coming from India and North Asia, including Chinese cities situated away from the eastern belt.

TABLE – Delhi leads the way as home to the fastest growing major airport, while Barcelona in Spain and Newark in USA were the best performing airports in Europe and North America in 2016Source: The Blue Swan Daily and ACI

Leading the field in 2016 was New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, serving India’s capital city, where there has been considerable infrastructure investment in the last five years. The annual percentage growth rate there of 21% was a full four percentage points higher than second-placed Incheon Airport in Korea and it continues to have the highest growth rate in 2017 to date.

CHART – The largest carriers at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport for the week commencing 18-Sep-2017 are IndiGo, Air India and Jet AirwaysSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

Mumbai, where a new airport is to be built but progress is slow, also figures in the top five. In the top ten, Incheon, serving Seoul in South Korea and Taipei Taoyuan International airports are both represented.

In China, Chengdu’s Shuangliu International, serving the capital of Sichuan province in western China, a region that is quickly playing economic catch up with the east and south of the country, and Guangzhou’s Baiyun International, close to Hong Kong, and where a large airport city and associated aerotropolis has been developed, are continued standout performers (A report on the world’s Top 10 Airport City projects – Aerotropolis Report: The world’s top 10 airport city projects and attendant aerotropolises – was published in Mar-2017).

Away from Asia Pacific, other notable table entries include Barcelona El Prat, Spain’s commercial capital at #4, Amsterdam Schiphol (again) at #8, some way ahead of Madrid Barajas (#18) but indicative of Spain’s return to its pre-recession economic position.

Also Toronto, where the Lester B Pearson International Airport is the second fastest growing in North America after Newark International (and it has outstripped Newark in 2017 to date to become the joint fastest growing with Denver International); and Mexico City’s Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez, where one of the world’s largest new airport projects is in under construction. While the existing airport was closed down by the 19-Sep-2017 earthquake there is no news yet on what effect that event had on the new airport, where a great deal of drainage and land-levelling work has been required.

In the freight segment, Hong Kong International and Memphis International continue to hold first and second place respectively for the busiest air cargo airports with 4.6 and 4.3 million metric tonnes of handled cargo in 2016. Hong Kong International is also #1 for international freight traffic, followed by Incheon and Dubai International. Meanwhile, Memphis is the busiest for domestic freight. Both Hong Kong and Memphis had almost twice the tonnage of their nearest rivals, respectively.

CHART – Based on full-year forecasts for capacity, Hong Kong International Airport will see annual total system cargo payload (kg) rise slightly in 2017Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

Again the world’s fastest growing cargo airports delivers the most intriguing insight with Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport taking the top spot among those handling over 250,000 metric tonnes of air cargo in 2016, albeit only slightly over the modest benchmark figure. It handled 256,000 metric tonnes last year, up +28.8% on 2015. The significantly larger Hamad International Airport in Doha was ranked second with 1.76 million metric tonnes, up +20.8%, while Noi Bai International in Hanoi was third with 566,000 metric tonnes, up +18.2% on 2015.