- Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) retained the top spot as the world’s busiest airport, boasting over 104 million passengers, 2.6% more than 2015.
- Beijing (PEK) held onto the second spot.
- Dubai (DXB) again secured the third position.
- Los Angeles (LAX), one of the fastest growing hubs, climbed to fourth place.
- Seoul Incheon (ICN), experienced double digit growth of 17.1% year-over-year in passenger traffic.
- Shanghai Pudong (PVG) posted a growth rate of 9.8% and climbed to ninth place.
Based on reports from 1,179 airports worldwide, ACI’s preliminary passenger traffic results for the most-traveled airports in 2016 reveal that the world’s top spot continued to belong to Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL). Boasting over 104 million passengers and growing 2.6% in 2016, the airport is within a two-hour flight of 80% of the United States’ population. Many pundits anticipated that ATL would be overtaken by Beijing (PEK) by 2015, which held the world’s second spot last year. Growing 5% to over 94 million passengers in 2016, China’s busiest airport saw subdued growth in previous years as it faced continuing capacity constraints. Conversely, ATL experienced above average growth levels spurred by aircraft fleet expansions in 2015 by Delta Air Lines, its major operator.
Dubai (DXB), remained in third position. As a major connection point for long-haul international flights, the airport is also the world’s busiest in terms of international passengers ahead of London-Heathrow (LHR). Total passenger traffic at DXB grew 7.2% in 2016.
The burgeoning Pacific market
Los Angeles (LAX) moved from 7th to 4th rank, solidifying its position as one of the fastest growing hubs in 2016. A strengthened American economy and competitive airfares fueled air transport demand during a record breaking travel season. In addition to buoyant market conditions, many airlines expanded their scheduled seat capacity to accommodate demand, which increased LAX passenger traffic 8% as compared to the previous year. International traffic continued to be a growing portion of passenger traffic as it expanded by 10.6% in 2016.
Consistent with this phenomenon, Asian airlines continued to make important inroads in the North American market on key international and trans-Pacific segments across airport pairs, particularly between North America and China. One of the major Chinese airports serving the trans-Pacific routes and other international routes includes Shanghai Pudong (PVG), which grew 9.8% in 2016 to over 66 million passengers.
The Chinese hub also serves the catchment area of Shanghai, one of the most populous city markets in the world and a major centre for trade and business. PVG, which represents over 60% of Shanghai’s passenger traffic in 2016, and Hongqiao (SHA), the city’s sister airport, surpassed the 100 million passenger mark in combined passenger traffic. Shanghai joined the ranks of the world’s busiest city markets in 2016, in the company of London, New York, Tokyo and Atlanta.
Seoul Incheon (ICN), a major Korean hub in East Asia with significant international traffic, serves the main catchment area of the capital city Seoul. The airport experienced double digit growth of 17.1% year-over-year in passenger traffic in 2016. Even after factoring in the effect of the outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome, which depressed the passenger figures during the summer of 2015, ICN would still have achieved an estimated growth rate of at least 10%. The continued growth of low cost carriers on key segments and the start of A380 flight operations of long-haul routes have paved the way for traffic expansions. A key contributor to traffic growth also relates to the consolidating demand of Korean and Japanese international routes. This boosted growth at ICN and other Korean airports. Tokyo Haneda (HND), the world’s fifth busiest airport and Japan’s largest, grew 5.5% in total passenger traffic for 2016.
Other key markets
Amsterdam-Schiphol (AMS), a major European hub, grew 9.2% in 2016. While AMS gained traffic due to the substitution effect from terrorism activity at sister hubs, the airport remained strategically located in a competitive market for connections on continental and intercontinental traffic. The airport currently provides over 320 flight connections to airports in some 98 countries.
Denver (DEN) also continued to increase traffic at a rate well above that which would have been expected from the mature North American market. Owing its growth to strong demand on origin and destination flights, the airport that is a gateway to the American Rockies, grew almost 8% in 2016.
Finally, there are two airports outside the top 20 that are growing fast: Delhi (DEL) and Doha (DOH), the world’s 21st and 50th busiest airports. Both airports achieved growth of over 20% in a single year although they each have distinct traffic composition. While almost three quarters of DEL’s traffic is domestic, DOH is a rapidly growing hub in the Middle East with almost all of its traffic reported as international. The dynamic between Indian aviation, which is poised to be one of the largest aviation markets over the long-term, and the Middle Eastern hubs as major points of connectivity will be important in the years to come.
Air cargo markets experienced a revival in the second half of 2016. Despite the looming uncertainty regarding trade policies in the face of protectionist sentiments, heightened business confidence through inventory build-ups and increased export orders remained apparent for the short-term. The world’s largest air cargo hub continued to be Hong Kong (HKG, +3.5%), followed by Memphis (MEM, +0.7%) and PVG (+5%). Doha (DOH), moved up from 20thto 16th rank with a jump of 20.8% in air cargo volumes in 2016. Representing as much as 44% of global traffic volumes, the world’s busiest airports for air cargo throughput grew 3.3% year-over-year.
ATL (+1.8%) is the world’s busiest airport for aircraft movements, ahead of Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) which experienced a decline of -0.9% and LAX which experienced an increase of 6.3%. Both AMS and PVG moved up the ranks, posting growth rates of 6.6% and 6.8% respectively. The top 20 airports achieved growth of 1.8% year-over-year as compared to 2015.
“The aviation industry is constantly changing, adapting and innovating,” said Angela Gittens, Director General, ACI World. “Global aviation markets remain dynamic in the face of economic uncertainty and geopolitical risks that persist on many fronts. Connecting people and places still remains paramount to the aviation sector in spite of the looming threat to market liberalization in major Western economies. We see passenger traffic continuing to grow at many of the major hubs. The combined use of larger aircraft, increased load factors by airlines and more efficient use of infrastructure continue to be an important trend across the industry. From a global perspective, this is a testament to the efficiency gains that have been achieved in the sector.”
Global summary: Preliminary year-over-year growth for 2016, compared to 2015
Total passengers: +5.6%
Total international passengers: +6.6%
Total cargo (includes mail): +3.3%
Total international freight: +4.3%
Total aircraft movements: +2.3%