The number of airports with more than 40 million annual passengers more than doubles in 10 years

Airports Council International (ACI) reports that the number of airports with an accumulated passenger throughput volume of more than 40 million passengers per annum increased from 18 in 2006 to 46 in 2016. These 46 what it calls ‘mega-hubs’ (though they may not actually be bone fide hubs) saw a 5.5% year-on-year increase in passenger throughput in 2016. In contrast ACI notes that many smaller airports with less than one million passengers per annum (27%) “have either stagnated or experienced a reduction in nonstop destinations between cities” between 2006 and 2016.

TABLE – Nine airports ‘graduated’ to the 40 million ppa club in 2016Source: The Blue Swan Daily, ACI and CAPA – Centre for Aviation

The average increase in passengers recorded was 7.9%, compared to a worldwide airport passenger number increase of 6.5%.

Of these nine, it is evident that Barcelona, Taiwan Taoyuan and Kunming airports are sustaining momentum, while the others are growing more slowly. They are the three most likely to push on towards the ’50 million ppa’ club.

Barcelona’s airport grew at a faster rate than did Madrid Barajas airport in 2016 despite the fact that formal hubbing takes place to a lesser degree there than at the capital’s airport. What is loses in Iberia capacity compared to Madrid is made up by Vueling and by airlines that engage in self-connection such as Norwegian; also by newcomer Level, which collectively are likely to increase their presence there. But Barcelona’s future may be influenced by the outcome of the Referendum on Catalonian independence from Spain, which has prompted threats to quit the region from large corporations.

Taiwan Taoyuan Airport is dominated by the two Taiwanese carriers, China Airlines and EVA Air, which account for almost 50% of seat capacity. China Airways is belatedly expanding in North America and Europe, while with new owners EVA Air’s expansion may be more conservative.

While China Eastern is the largest carrier at Kunming Changshui International Airport it is also the home base for Lucky Air, China’s first long haul LCC and a division of the HNA Group and member of the U-Fly Alliance.

CHART – China Eastern Airlines has historically been the prominent carrier at Kunming’s Changshui International Airport, but China’s LCC Lucky Air is increasing its presenceSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport is static in the ranking section of the table. As it is approaching capacity, a new airport, Western Sydney, catering mainly to low cost carriers, is to open by 2025 with an initial capacity of 10 million ppa.

Shenzhen Airport in China went down one place in the rankings in 2016 despite joining the 40 million ppa club. It benefits from its position in the economic powerhouse that is the Guangdong Province of Southern China; close to Hong Kong in the Pearl River Delta. The airport is a hub for Shenzhen Airlines, while China Southern Airlines also has a major presence at the airport.

Orlando International Airport gained two ranking places in 2016. Florida continues to attract tourists, both domestic and international. 112.4 million out-of-state and foreign visitors converged on the state in 2016, many of them bound for Orlando. Orlando International has not benefited significantly from the rival Sanford airport, which also has a strong growth profile. However, the growth figures will not be so strong in 2017 as a result of hurricanes and associated natural disasters.

CHART – Southwest Airlines is the largest operator at Orlando International Airport with almost twice as large as Delta Air Lines, JetBlue and American Airlines, based on schedules for the week commencing 09-Oct-2017Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

Another city where a new airport is in the offing is Mexico City and it should be open in 2020. The motivation to build it arose from the severe capacity limitations at the existing Benito Juárez International Airport, and it may come as a surprise that this facility has managed to increase passenger traffic by 8.5% in 2016. And it intends to build on it, having awarded a consulting contract to increase operational efficiency further. Aeromexico remains the largest carrier, with second-placed LCC Interjet about half its size.

CHART – Mexico City’s Benito Juárez International Airport has delivered strong year-on-year growth since 2011 and growth this year is mirroring last year’s performanceSource: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and and Mexico City Juarez International Airport reports

The New York area’s Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey is perhaps a surprising inclusion in this club, but in fact its rate of traffic growth has been higher than that of JFK Airport in 2016 and also in 2017 to date (by two percentage points and almost seven percentage points respectively). United, since its merger with Continental, is by far the largest carrier, with almost two-thirds of seat capacity. No other airline has even 5%.

Finally, Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport, with its 40.5million passengers in 2016, contributes to a city-region total of 106.5 million, making Shanghai one of the few cities in the world with over 100 million airliner passengers each year.  (The others are London, New York, Atlanta and Tokyo, with Paris, Beijing, Dubai, Los Angeles, Moscow and Istanbul all edging closer). China Eastern Airlines is the largest carrier, with just less than a third of the total capacity.

For all the growth recorded in this particular zone of activity though, the most disturbing statistic is the plight of the smaller secondary airports, which contribute to the local, social and economic development of their surrounding communities. The low cost carrier segment once focused on them but as it has ‘matured’ it has moved on to the primary airport sector, leaving many secondary ones facing a grim fight for survival.