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OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on May 19, 2017

World in motion

Traffic at the world’s 20 busiest passenger hubs grew 4.7% in 2016 as they handled 1.4 billion passengers between them.


ACI’s preliminary traffic results for 2016 reveal that the world’s 20 busiest passenger airports – led by Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) which handled over 104 million passengers (+2.6%) – accounted for 18% of the global passenger traffic last year.

Beijing Capital (PEK) and Dubai (DXB) cemented their status as the second and third busiest airports on the planet, handling 94 million (+5%) and 83.6 million (+7.2%) respectively in 2016.

DXB is also the world’s busiest in terms of international passengers ahead of London-Heathrow (LHR).  

The burgeoning Pacific market

Los Angeles (LAX) moved from seventh to fourth busiest, solidifying its position as one of the fastest growing hubs in 2016. A strengthened American economy and competitive airfares fuelled air transport demand during a record-breaking travel season. 

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 saw passenger numbers exceed 66 million (+9.8%) in 2016.

East Asia

Seoul’s Incheon International Airport (ICN) experienced double-digit year-on-year passenger growth of 17.1% in 2016. 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 significant traffic expansion. 

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, experienced a 5.5% upturn in passenger traffic during the year.

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. 

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 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 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

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), Memphis (MEM), Shanghai Pudong (PVG) and Doha (DOH), which experienced upturns of 3.5%, 0.7% and 5% respectively

DOH moved up from 20th to 16th in the rankings with a jump of 20.8% in air cargo volumes in 2016. Between them the world’s busiest cargo airports accommodated around 44% of the world’s air cargo volumes last year. 

Aircraft movements 

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 year-on-year growth of 1.8%.

“The aviation industry is constantly changing, adapting and innovating,” said Angela Gittens, ACI World’s director general. “Global aviation markets remain dynamic in the face of economic uncertainty and geopolitical risks that persist on many fronts.” 

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Joe Bates

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